WASHINGTON – Democratic and Republicans leaders reached a deal late Wednesday that clears the way for a Senate vote on passage of a $109 billion bill to overhaul federal highway and transit programs.
The agreement limits the number of amendments to be voted upon to 30, Majority Leader Harry Reid said. The Senate will begin slogging through the amendments on Thursday, and it's possible that a vote on passage of the bill could come that night. However, it's likely that action on the bill will drag over until Tuesday, when senators return from a weekend break.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, plans to immediately send the bill over to the House, where GOP leaders have been struggling to corral enough votes to pass their own five-year bill. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, warned rank-and-file Republicans at a closed-door meeting Wednesday that if they don't act quickly to pass their own bill, he will bring the Senate bill to the House floor for a vote, lawmakers who attended the meeting said.
"You don't like that? I don't like it either. Why would any of us like it?" Boehner was quoted as saying by a Republican aide present in the meeting. "It means punting on the opportunity to pass an infrastructure bill that bears our stamp." The aide asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.
House and Senate leaders are in a hurry to either pass an overhaul or a temporary extension of transportation programs by March 31. That's when the government's authority to dispense highway aid and collect about $110 million a day in federal gasoline and diesel taxes expires.
The House is due to break Friday for a weeklong recess.
Action on the Senate bill had been stalled for weeks as lawmakers from both parties sought to offer more than 100 amendments, many of them unrelated to transportation programs. The Senate already has rejected a GOP amendment to provide religious exemptions to President Barack Obama's requirement that health insurers cover the cost of contraceptives.
Among the amendments likely to be voted upon Thursday are proposals to extend energy-related tax breaks, delay air pollution standards for industrial boilers and two competing amendments on the Keystone oil pipeline.