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Which is easier: Driving in L.A. or passing a highway bill?

February 15, 2012 |  8:55 am

Getting a highway bill through Congress is becoming more challenging than navigating Los Angeles traffic.

A $260-billion, Republican-drafted House bill is facing opposition from the left and the right, forcing GOP leaders Wednesday to put off a final roll call while they scramble to line up the votes to pass it.

The White House on Tuesday threatened a veto, saying the measure "jeopardizes safety, weakens environmental and labor protections and fails to make the investments needed to strengthen the nation's roads, bridges, rail and transit systems." If the bill gets to the president's desk, the White House budget office said, his senior advisors will recommend that he veto it. 

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, has called the legislation the worst transportation bill he has seen in 35 years of public service.

The bill would, among other things, open up a portion of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and some new coastal sections -- including an area off Southern California -- to energy exploration to generate money for road projects.

It also would end the decades-old use of a portion of gasoline-tax revenue for mass transit.

Further, the measure would extend by five years, until 2020, the deadline for operators of trains carrying passengers and hazardous materials to install collision avoidance systems. The mandate was included in 2008 rail safety legislation after a Metrolink train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., killing 25 people and injuring more than 130.

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) hopes to bring the House floor an amendment that would keep the 2015 deadline. But a similar effort was soundly defeated in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on a bipartisan vote.

House Republican leaders say the bill would generate jobs, speed up traffic-easing projects and increase domestic production of oil at a time when gas prices are once again rising.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), acknowledging concerns about the bill among his rank and file, told congressional Republicans Wednesday, "I want you to have a chance to offer amendments, to have a full debate on the floor. This debate is a debate we want to have,'' according to an attendee of the closed-door meeting.

"It’s more important that we do it right than that we do it fast,'' the speaker said, according to the attendee.

Boehner also advised his fellow Republicans that when their constituents ask about high fuel prices, "tell them about this bill that we’re working on.”

The final vote on the five-year bill is expected after the Presidents Day recess.

The Senate is considering a $109-billion, two-year bill that has had bipartisan support. But it is encountering gridlock because of expected Republican efforts to attach controversial measures to it that supporters fear could jeopardize it, such as a rider mandating approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.


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-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: The Capitol is seen behind some stoplights in Washington. Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg