Skepticism Over Highway Bill Prompts Veto Threat, Procedural Changes
The House will split the legislation into three pieces to make voting more palatable to some members.
The White House threatened to veto the House's five-year, $260 billion surface transportation bill on Tuesday in a strongly-worded, two-page note that says the administration believes it contains inadequate spending, undermines transit and would weaken safety, environmental and labor standards.
The move is the latest sign of trouble for the legislation. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner announced that he would split the bill into three pieces that mirror the way committees voted on measure. One would focus on the transportation provisions, one would address efforts to expand oil and gas drilling and one deals with funding.
Boehner portrayed the move as fostering a "more open, inclusive process" that will allow each component to be debated and amended more than time would permit for a single bill.
But many observers speculate it's a way to give political cover to some moderate House Republicans, who may object to one or more of legislation's controversial provisions and want to vote against parts of the bill.
Republicans in and around place likes New York and Chicago have been especially critical of the provision in the legislation that would eliminate the dedicated funding for transit.
Other controversial provisions in the legislation include the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, expanded drilling in the Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and greater contributions by federal workers towards their pensions. The House's legislation is facing a united front of opposite from Democrats, which means it's essential for Republican leadership to get as many of their members on board as possible.
The Associated Press reports that the House could could have a final vote on its legislation Friday.
Meanwhile, the Senate's two-year, $109 billion bill -- which has been backed by the president -- is enjoying bipartisan support, and its debate continue this week.
If the House and Senate can't agree to a bill by March 31, they'll have to pass yet-another temporary extension. That's the date the latest extension to the country's surface transportation system expires.