Ryan Holeywell is a staff writer at GOVERNING.E-mail: email@example.com
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday that he doesn't expect federal lawmakers to pass a long-term highway and transit bill before the current one expires, and an extension will be necessary.
LaHood, speaking before a conference of county officials, highlighted the internal debate among House Republicans about their long-term highway and transit bill, which is undergoing revisions after it divided the party's ranks.
The current extension to the highway and transit bill expires at the end of the month. The last long-term bill, known as SAFETEA-LU, ended in September 2009 and has been operating on extensions ever since. State and local officials have decried the seemingly endless stream of extensions, arguing that without long-term legislation, it's difficult to plan large projects that take years to complete.
"Congress isn't going to pass a transportation bill by the end of the month," LaHood said. "We'll have to have an extension."
LaHood said it's unclear just how long that extension may be, but it will likely be dictated by the pace of progress on the Senate legislation, which has some bipartisan support, though it has slowed during the amendment process.
In theory, an extension isn't the only option. The House could try to revise and pass its own long-term bill as the Senate works through its own legislation. But the differences between the bills are vast and would require substantial changes during a conference committee in a very short period of time.
But it may be important for the House to pass a bill soon anyway. As Transportation Issues Daily notes, many House Republicans would be reluctant to accept an extension without a clear indication that progress is being made on a long-term bill.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner told Politico Tuesday that he may allow the House to vote on the Senate legislation, despite opposition from some Republicans. It's unlikely the legislation would be approved by the House.
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