There will be changes made to the bill through a leadership-backed amendment that will address GOP members' concerns, Mica said.
"The bill isn't done," he said. "The final bill will be something conservatives can be very proud of because it has dramatic reforms and measures that people have called for for years."
But House leaders are being squeezed from both sides. If they give too much ground they risk losing support on the right. The Club for Growth, a free-market, anti-tax group influential with fiscal conservatives, and the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation have objected to both the House and the Senate bills. Conservatives say the bills spend too much money and transportation programs should be paid for using only fuel tax revenue. Democrats and moderate Republicans, meanwhile, oppose sharp cuts to popular programs.
In the White House veto threat, Obama's Office of Management and Budget also objected to a mandate in the House bill that a permit be granted for an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas. The Obama administration denied the permit last month but left the door open for an application for a new pipeline route. The White House says the bill also eliminates transit programs that help metropolitan areas reduce congestion.
GOP leaders said Tuesday they intend to divide the transportation bill into three bills. Their strategy is to allow lawmakers who oppose the transit changes or oil drilling provisions to vote again those portions, while still supporting the heart of the bill. Afterward, the House clerk will stitch the three bills together.
Floor debate could begin on the House bill as soon as Wednesday, with a final vote expected Friday. Lawmakers had filed 293 amendment requests with the House Rules Committee by Monday's 11 a.m. deadline. The committee decides which amendments can be offered during debate.
Debate began on the Senate bill late last week with a strongly bipartisan procedural vote of 85-11, and is continuing this week. The bill is co-authored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., ideological opposites who have managed to overcome substantial disagreement in an effort to pass a bill.
But Democrats, who control the Senate, have struggled to come up with the money to pay for the plan. Several GOP senators have signaled that their support for the bill could turn to opposition if changes aren't made to satisfy their fiscal concerns.
Like the House, the Senate has been hampered by a shortfall between current spending levels and fuel tax revenues, which are the main source of funding for transportation programs. Reductions in driving due to the economy as well as more fuel-efficient vehicles have lowered tax revenues. The budget office projects the trust fund that pays for highway and transit programs will go broke sometime in the 2013 federal budget year.
Without an infusion of cash from somewhere, the Transportation Department could be forced to slow down reimbursements to states for highway construction and other transportation projects. That, in turn, could lead to thousands of lost jobs.
Lawmakers could resolve much of their money woes by increasing the 18.4 cent-a-gallon gas tax and the 24.4 cent-a-gallon diesel tax, but that's politically unpalatable in an economy where unemployment remains high and many Americans feel financially insecure.
Indecision about how to shore up the Highway Trust Fund has long stymied efforts to pass a transportation plan. The last long-term plan expired in 2009. Congress has kept programs going through a series of eight short-term extensions. The current extension expires March 31.
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