The original six-year House transportation bill had funding levels that were too low, so House leaders axed that and came up with a fairy tale bill in which oil drilling would pay for higher transportation spending levels. Then they decided to kick transit funding out of that bill, which didn't fly. So they thought about replacing the whole kit and kaboodle with an 18-month bill, but no one liked that either.
As of this morning, Speaker John Boehner was supposedly trying to round up votes for another five-year bill. It looks like he couldn't find them, according to Fox News reporter Chad Pergram, so now the House may take up something more like the Senate's 18-month bill:
The five-year bill that Boehner tried and failed to get his GOP colleagues to pass yesterday preserved dedicated funding for transit, but it didn't really solve any of the other contentious issues with the previous bills (except, thankfully, for the double-decker horse trailer issue.) It kept oil drilling, which Democrats oppose, and didn't lower the $260 billion price tag, which conservatives bristle at.
Perhaps the bill’s downfall, however, was leadership’s commitment to keeping it earmark-free. Though many analysts would call that a noble route, it leaves members without specific projects in their districts that they can use to sell the bill to their constituents. Ironically, without some local pork thrown in, a federal transportation bill looks like a big hunk of Washington pork to many members of Boehner's caucus.
No one in House leadership wants to vote for the Senate bill, but that appears to be their only option, as yet another internal proposal dies. The House could try to pass an 18-month or two-year extension, but Politico reports that such a measure would have a “rocky road to passage.” It would basically implement the Senate bill’s funding levels (or close to it) but without a way of paying for it, leaving the Highway Trust Fund vulnerable to insolvency before the extension even expired.
One way or another, it looks like an 18-month bill -- basically a glorified extension -- has a path to passage now.