The House has approved a further three-month extension for highway and transit programs with a provision to clear the way for construction of the Keystone XL crude pipeline.

The bill, approved on April 18 on a 293-127 vote, will serve as a vehicle to begin negotiations with the Senate on what construction industry officials hope will be at least a moderately long-term measure.

In that House-Senate conference committee, lawmakers will attempt to reconcile differences between the newly passed three-month House measure and the $109-billion, two-year bill that the Senate approved in March.

Surface transportation programs are in no immediate danger of shutting down; they have funding through June 30, thanks to the latest of nine short-term authorizations enacted since September 2009. That ninth extension was enacted on March 30.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said after the House vote, “The fact that the House voted to take a step forward on a surface transportation bill is encouraging—as long as they follow through and immediately appoint conferees so that Congress can complete its work and get a bill to the President’s desk.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said, "This bill contains no tax increases, earmarks or new federal government programs, which may disappoint Democrats, but this legislation will help move the process forward in working to resolve differences with the Senate."

The just-passed House bill marks the latest shift by the chamber’s Republican leaders on the legislation. On Feb. 3, Mica's committee cleared a five-year, $260-billion highway-transit bill, which House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) planned to merge with provisions aimed at increasing domestic oil and gas drilling.

But Boehner apparently was unable to round up enough votes to pass that package. He then split the legislation and the House on Feb. 16 did approve the energy provisions. 

But there was no real movement on the highway-transit portion. Before the Easter-Passover congressional recess, Boehner spurned Democrats’ pleas to have the House pass the Senate’s two-year bill.

Instead, he offered—and Congress approved—the stopgap authorization that now is in effect.