The construction industry, already suffering 17.7 percent unemployment at the end of January, would be especially hurt.
House Republicans crafted their own five-year, $260 billion bill, but they've been unable to marshal the support of rank-and-file lawmakers behind it. Conservatives say it spends too much money, while moderates say it would penalize union workers and undermine environmental provisions.
Boehner conceded Thursday that for the moment the House's best option is to take up the Senate bill after it passes — "or something like it" — although GOP leaders were still talking to their members in the hope of resurrecting their bill.
The inability of House Republicans to pass a highway bill of their own is an example of a paralysis that has struck several times in the past year. Last summer, an impasse over labor issues and subsidies for rural airports led to a two-week shutdown of non-essential Federal Aviation Administration operations.
In December, Boehner overrode his own rank-and-file when he agreed to a deal to extend the Social Security payroll tax cut after most lawmakers had gone home.