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Conference Devolves Into Talk of Extensions

If you were still hoping a real bill could come out of the transportation conference, here’s a bitter pill: House Speaker John Boehner is now talking about a six-month extension of the current law.

PSAs, like this one from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, are no match for the temptation to use cell phones while driving.

That extension would expire at the end of the year, along with such a massive bundle of economic initiatives that the lame-duck session is now known by some as “Taxmageddon.” Add to that “Highway Trust Fund-mageddon” – December 31 is just about when the money runs out.

A six-month extension is, arguably, better than a one-month extension, as insiders said [Boehner] was considering previously, or a three-month extension that’s been bandied about – expiring just weeks before the election. Boehner said a longer extension would be necessary to bring the issue “out of the political realm.” The construction and manufacturing industries have also been quietly lobbying for a longer extension, even as they push for passage of a bill, to guarantee at least more certainty than a one-month extension would provide.

It seems the Speaker has been listening. “If we get up to June 30th, I am not interested in some 30 day extension,” Boehner said during a press conference. “Frankly, I think if we get to June 30th, it’d be a six month extension.”

Senator Barbara Boxer shot back, “I am very disappointed that Speaker Boehner is even talking about a long-term transportation extension, which would lead to the Highway Trust Fund going bankrupt, when all of our efforts must be focused on passing a transportation bill by the June 30th deadline.”

Boxer is more and more isolated in her optimism about the possibility of passing a bill. Even the U.S. Conference of Mayors and some governors are now calling for an extension. It appears they, too have lost hope that this conference will lead to a bill. [UPDATE 8:17 PM: The conference press release was incorrect and has been retracted: they are pressing for passage, not extension.]

Many Capitol Hill insiders are saying there’s just no will on the part of House Republicans to pass a bill this year. The ugly truth is that it’s good for Obama if unemployment goes down, and what’s good for Obama is bad for Republicans. So, according to this logic, a bill aimed at creating or saving an estimated three million jobs is not a Republican priority.

Despite their insistence that nothing could be further from the truth, rumors persist that Boehner and Cantor don't see eye to eye on this. Capitol Hill aides say Boehner is an old-school Republican negotiating in good faith to pass legislation, while Cantor is currying favor with the Tea Party by refusing to compromise. Boehner probably also is making the political calculation that a transportation bill could help solidify his legacy, while Cantor is reportedly betting that failure on the speaker's part to pass this major piece of legislation could make it easier to steal his job.

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