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Congress Seeks to Finish U.S. Highway Bill This Week, Boxer Says

Congress Seeks to Finish U.S. Highway Bill This Week, Boxer Says
A California Highway Patrol vehicle enforces the closure of the Interstate 405 freeway in Los Angeles. Photo: Jonathan Alcorn/Bloomberg

House-Senate negotiators are trying to finish work this week on legislation to extend U.S. highway-construction programs, Senator Barbara Boxer said after meeting with congressional leaders.

The California Democrat met with House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, a Florida Republican, today to discuss options on some version of a two-year, $109 billion spending plan.

Reid and Boehner “told Chairman John Mica and me to finish our work this week on the transportation bill,” Boxer said in a statement following the meeting. “I have asked Chairman Mica to meet continually over the next several days to achieve this deadline.”

Boxer has been leading a conference committee trying to work out a deal to authorize highway construction and mass transit programs beyond their current expiration date of June 30. Today’s meeting followed a week with no signs of progress in negotiations.

Without a long-term bill or extension, taxing and U.S. spending authority for highways and transit also run out, cutting off money to states for programs funded by the Highway Trust Fund such as safety and repairs. Thousands of construction and government workers would probably be laid off.

Mica said both chambers’ leaders still want a bill done and he was going to review a new offer sent over from the Senate.

“Tomorrow, we’ll see where we are,” Mica told reporters emerging from the meeting in Boehner’s Capitol office. “We’re going to take it hour by hour and see if we can get the job done.”

Heavy Lifting

Representative Reid Ribble, a Wisconsin Republican who has been negotiating language that would shorten environmental reviews of highway projects, said Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, assured House members that the Senate still wanted a bill at a House Republican conference meeting today.

The heavy lifting will be done this week, or there will be some kind of short-term extension of current law, Ribble said.

“The leadership is going to try to pound this out,” Ribble told reporters off the House floor. “For a while it felt almost as if they were stonewalling it, but we’re kind of getting to D-Day now, and they’ve got to get it done.”

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