House and Senate reach agreement on highway-funding bill

House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement Wednesday night on a two-year highway-funding bill that reportedly will not include language forcing the Obama administration to approve the Keystone pipeline project.

The agreement is expected to be approved by a majority of the conferees later Wednesday night, with a final vote in the House and Senate by Friday when Congress adjourns for the Fourth of July break.

Republicans agreed to drop their insistence that Keystone’s approval be included in the measure — language that prompted President Barack Obama to threaten the bill with a veto, the Associated Press reported.

However, House Republicans scored a victory in striking language that would have awarded $1.4 billion to the Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase more private property for government ownership.

This victory was in spite of a last minute lobbying effort by the National Rifle Association, which sided with environmentalists in favor of the funding.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced the bicameral, bipartisan agreement that would fund highway and transit programs at the current funding level until 2014.

Unlike the last transportation bill, which contained over 6,300 earmarks, this bill does not include any earmarks, nor will it raise taxes, Mica said.

“The unprecedented reforms in this legislation — cutting red tape, truly making projects ‘shovel ready,’ shrinking the size of the federal bureaucracy, attracting more private sector participation, and giving states more flexibility to address their critical priorities — will ensure that we more effectively move forward with major highway and bridge improvements and put Americans back to work,” Mica said.

Added Boxer: “We speed up project delivery, cut red tape, and do it without jeopardizing environmental laws. For the first time, we send half of the funds for bike paths and pedestrian walkways directly to local entities, and we protect those funds while giving states more flexibility on their share.”