Highway bill fails to clear hurdle in Senate

By JOAN LOWY | March 6, 2012 | 1:15 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan transportation bill failed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate, ratcheting up pressure on lawmakers to find a way to keep federal aid flowing to highway and transit programs beyond the end of this month or face widespread construction industry layoffs.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to limit debate on a two-year, $109 billion transportation bill. All but two Republicans voted against the motion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, accused Republicans of political obstruction. GOP senators said they were trying to preserve their right to offer amendments, including on such unrelated issues as the Keystone oil pipeline and pollution controls for industrial boilers.

The government's power to fund transportation programs is due to expire March 31.