* Boehner warns Republicans: pass bill or take Senate
* House Speaker seeks to bring unruly caucus to heel on bill
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, March 7 House of
Representatives Speaker John Boehner implored fellow Republicans
on Wednesday to pass a $260 billion transportation bill, their
party's flagship job creation measure, which has fallen victim
to internal squabbling.
The legislation to rebuild roads, bridges and rail
transit over the next five years was meant to help the
Republican-controlled House stake an election-year claim to
being the party of job creation, funding as many as 7.8 million
new jobs in the U.S. construction industry.
Instead, Boehner was forced to issue an ultimatum on
Wednesday to end bickering that has stalled the bill as a
crucial road funding deadline draws near.
In a closed-door meeting with House Republicans, he
warned that if they fail to pass the House bill, they would have
to settle for a less-ambitious measure being considered by the
Democratic-controlled Senate, according to a source who attended
The Senate bill, which has broad bipartisan support,
does not contain the funding and energy expansion provisions
that Republicans favor.
If the House were forced to take up the Senate version,
Boehner would be put in a potentially embarrassing situation, as
he has repeatedly castigated the Senate for failing to consider
jobs bills passed by the lower chamber.
It would also complicate efforts by House Republican
leaders to counter President Barack Obama's election-year
attacks that paint Republicans as obstructionists who have
thwarted his efforts to tackle high unemployment and grow the
Polls show voters blame Republicans more than Democrats
for the political gridlock that has all but paralyzed
decision-making in Congress and raised doubts among investors
that Washington has the political will to deal with pressing
issues, such as deficit reduction.
BOEHNER URGES ACTION
A temporary law financing road, rail and bridge repairs
expires on March 31. Without new legislation, as many as 1.8
million construction workers could be laid off, Senate Democrats
The House measure hit roadblocks from the start,
alienating Democrats and the White House by trying to
fast-track the delayed TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL
oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. It also lost support
from both parties by proposing to eliminate dedicated funding
for mass transit.
Fiscally conservative Republicans balked at the bill's price
tag, but a cheaper, 18-month measure floated by Republican
leaders also failed to gain support.
"Right now that bill lacks the votes to pass. And every
other option we've tried has even less support," Boehner was
quoted as saying to House Republicans by the source who attended
The top Republican told members inaction means "punting on
the opportunity to pass an infrastructure bill that bears our
stamp," the source said.
"It means giving up on the opportunity to make sure a bill
is enacted that is responsibly paid for; that has full-scale
reforms in it; and most importantly, that is linked to increased
production of American energy. But right now it's the plan."
The dilemma is a familiar one for Boehner, who has struggled
over the past year to get the support of first-term Republicans
backed by the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement.
Meanwhile, Senate negotiators are working on a deal to
consider which amendments will get votes on their smaller, $109
billion transportation bill. These are likely to include votes
on Keystone and relaxation of clean air standards for
industrial boilers, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer said.