* Republicans insist on reforms to road project spending
* Keystone not seen as part of a short-term bill -aide
* Negotiators are asked to "redouble" efforts
By David Lawder and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, June 19 U.S. congressional leaders
failed on Tuesday to break a deadlock on a long-stalled
transportation funding measure, and Republicans may now have to
detach from the bill approval of the controversial Keystone XL
oil pipeline and find another vehicle for that project.
Removal of the pipeline provision would help clear the way
for a short-term extension of current transportation funding
before a June 30 deadline.
House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid could not resolve differences in a
late afternoon meeting over the road, bridge and rail bill that
could create or save millions of jobs and give a lift to the
struggling U.S. economy.
"Hope springs eternal," Boehner, the top Republican in
Congress, quipped as he left his office in the Capitol.
Failure to reach a deal in Congress could trigger layoffs of
nearly 3 million U.S. construction workers and increase
unemployment less than six months before the November elections.
Aides for House and Senate negotiators from both parties
said hopes for a long-term funding bill were dimming and that a
six-month extension was likely, with less than two weeks to go
before the deadline.
But Republican House Transportation Committee Chairman John
Mica said Boehner and Reid instructed negotiators "to redouble
our efforts" and the Democratic-led Senate had offered a new
proposal. He declined to comment on any discussions of a
temporary extension, which would be the 11th since the most
recent transportation bill expired in 2009.
"We're going to take it hour by hour, see if we can get the
job done," Mica said.
One major outstanding issue has been Republicans' insistence
on including approval for TransCanada Corp's Keystone
XL oil pipeline project - a provision opposed by President
Barack Obama and most Democrats.
The House lawmaker who authored that plan, Nebraska
Republican Lee Terry, now believes it is unlikely the Keystone
provision will be part of a short-term, stopgap funding
"He doesn't see it happening at this point," a Terry aide
told Reuters, noting Terry continued to work with Boehner to see
what other legislative vehicles could be used to advance
approval for the Canada-to-Texas pipeline.
A Senate Democratic aide said the Keystone provision might
have another chance to move if lawmakers complete a highway bill
this summer or autumn.
"Even if it's a six-month bill, the possibility would exist
to do Keystone in the lame-duck (session), if not sooner," the
REPUBLICANS SEEK STREAMLINED ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS
The Republican-led House failed to pass its own, more
ambitious highway bill, which sought $260 billion over five
years and proposed controversial funding changes for
mass-transit projects. Fiscally conservative Tea Party-backed
House Republicans have objected to the measure's price tag.
In negotiations with the Senate on core transportation
provisions, House Republicans have insisted on streamlining
environmental reviews of road projects in order to speed up
their construction. They also want to drop provisions that allow
for gasoline taxes to help pay for ancillary transportation
"enhancements" such as flower beds and other streetscape
Earlier this month, Boehner floated the idea of a six-month
extension of current funding, which would remove the threat of a
halt in road and rail construction until after the Nov. 6
Democrats have balked at that idea, saying it would deplete
the Highway Trust Fund because falling gasoline tax collections
were insufficient to fund current projects.
They say U.S. states also would delay the start of new
longer-term projects - and the hiring of hundreds of thousands
of workers - due to the lack of funding certainty.