* Accusations fly as June 30 funding deadline approaches
* Streamlining of project reviews a major sticking point
* House, Senate talks haven't yet mulled Keystone pipeline
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, June 13 Prospects for Congress to
pass a jobs-rich transportation construction bill before a June
30 deadline looked grim on Thursday as Democrats and Republicans
blamed each other for divisions that threaten to scuttle the
measure and force another stop-gap extension.
Senate Democrats accused fiscally conservative House
Republicans of "holding hostage" the $109 billion Senate-passed
transportation measure, along with 3 million jobs supported by
federally funded road, bridge and rail transit projects.
Failure to pass the bill by June 30 would cut off project
funds at the height of the summer road construction season
across much of the country, idling workers.
If Congress approves another three- or six-month extension
of current funding, states would start to shelve longer-term
projects, keeping unemployment in the construction sector high.
The gasoline tax-supported Highway Trust Fund also would run the
risk of depletion without a new revenue formula.
A news conference by Democratic senators in front of cement
mixers and other construction trucks outside the Capitol felt
like the start of an election-year campaign to hammer
Republicans over the long-delayed jobs measure.
"I have heard from some Republicans that there are people
arguing that they shouldn't pass this bill because it might help
President Obama because people might go back to work," said
Democratic Senator John Kerry. "It is an utter disgrace that a
minority in the House of Representatives - extremists - would
say they're for the American people at the same time they refuse
to put them to work tomorrow."
House and Senate negotiators have been haggling over the
Senate's bill for more than four weeks, and have not been able
to agree on core transportation provisions. They have not begun
to address the controversial Rep ublican pr ovision to fast-track
approval of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline
provi sion in the bill.
Representative John Mica, the top Republican House
negotiator, said Democrats were the roadblock to an agreement.
"I remain hopeful that we can reach a bicameral compromise
with the Senate," Mica said in a statement. "However, I am
disappointed in the fact that Senate negotiators have yet to
move significantly on key House reform proposals. In addition,
the Senate leadership appears unwilling to compromise at all on
the Keystone XL pipeline."
Among core transport provisions where the two sides remain
divided are the streamlining of environmental reviews of
projects to speed them along and on the use of funds for
ancillary "enhancements" such as streetscapes, flower beds and
bicycle lanes, according to House and Senate aides.
A senior Republican House aide said Senate Democrats have
refused to make compromises on this issue, adding that a more
streamlined review process would mean faster hiring of workers.
A Senate Republican aide said House negotiators still want
to preclude the use of federal transportation funds for the bike
lanes and other enhancements, allowed in the Senate bill.
The top Senate negotiator, California Democrat Barbara
Boxer, said she still was hoping for a deal on core
transportation issues but blamed House Speaker John Boehner for
failing to rally his unruly Republican caucus in support of the
Senate bill. She declined to discuss specific areas of
"I don't say there's an impasse, I say there's a definite
lack of a sense of urgency," Boxer said at a news conference
framed by cement mixing trucks in front of the Capitol. "There's
a definite lack of leadership in the House, unlike we had in the
Senate from Republicans and Democrats and it's very disturbing
Asked why House and Senate negotiators had not yet dealt
with Keystone - seen crucial for many House Republican votes -
Boxer said: "We may have something with Keystone in it. But what
we need to do first, before we take on Keystone, before we
decide whether we should put it in, whether we shouldn't put it
in, is take care of the transportation bill."