It’s the Congressional version of a standoff at the OK Corral.
The Senate is scrambling to finish a six-year funded highway bill and get it to a vote. The House leadership wants nothing to do with that bill on short notice and is pressing for an extension of current highway funding.
The standoff won’t end with a showdown at dusk. But Congress is facing its August recess and a Friday, July 31, expiration of the current highway funding.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, reportedly told members of the Capitol media pool on Tuesday that the House would vote on a three-month extension of the current highway funding on Wednesday, July 29. And then House members will leave town for their August recess.
A passed extension and departure of members of the House will leave the Senate leadership in a dilemma – either pass an extension as well or let highway funding lapse on July 31.
The down-to-the-wire antics have been building since the first of July.
Earlier this month, House lawmakers passed a five-month extension that would last through December.
Then, the Senate brought a six-year transportation bill to the table. It was dubbed the DRIVE Act, largely based on language from the Environment and Public Works Committee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
The 1,000-plus page bill would draw three years of funding from mortgage tax reforms and other tax reforms suggested by the Senate Finance Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., got the necessary 60 votes on Monday night to initiate debate on the DRIVE Act. Many senators have taken to the floor since then to speak about the need to upgrade highways, bridges, transit and freight movement.
The DRIVE Act had not officially passed the Senate as of Tuesday. In fact, the Wednesday vote in the House for the three-month extension is expected to be over and done with before the debate on the Senate highway bill is completed.
Even if it does pass the Senate before the House leaves on recess, leaders in the House of Representatives declared that they would not take up the DRIVE Act at this time.
On Tuesday, House lawmakers scrapped their own five-month proposal and offered a shorter, three-month extension that would last through Oct. 31.
House lawmakers are scheduled to take their annual five-week recess upon the completion of work on Wednesday.
That would force the Senate, which remains in session until the end of the week, to accept the House version before their break begins.
Some lawmakers made a plea to their leaders to remain in session until a bill gets passed. Another round of Senate debates was scheduled for later in the day on Tuesday.