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GOP Split on Metro

A proposed $1.5 billion cash infusion for the D.C. Metro has Republican conservatives crying foul and trying to make life difficult for its GOP sponsor, Rep. Tom Davis.

Davis — who represents the Northern Virginia suburbs and may run statewide as soon as 2008 — has been trying for years to enact a long-term funding package for the transit system, but he faces a family feud with conservatives who want to derail what they consider to be pork on a massive scale.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, attacked the earmark as the “largest in American history,” far larger than the “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska, and aims to rally Republicans against it when it reaches the House floor.

“I think it’s an important vote to let the American people know, will Republicans act like Republicans or will it be business as usual?” Hensarling said Tuesday. “The last thing we need to have is what the Heritage Foundation and others have said is the largest earmark in history.”

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) temporarily blocked the bill in committee before the April recess on procedural grounds. “I know this is Washington, but $1.5 billion is still a lot of money,” McHenry said. “Are D.C. pork projects really a top priority given the challenges we face as a nation?”

The stalling tactic isn’t likely to slow the bill for long.

Despite the internecine war among Republicans, prospects appear good for passing the bill through the House again, with backing from powerful Washington-area Democrats including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen, both of Maryland.

Davis said Tuesday he’s confident his authorizing bill will become law this year after a similar measure passed the House last year only to be shelved in the Senate.

“It’ll become law,” he predicted, noting bipartisan support in both chambers and last year’s 242-120 House vote on a similar Metro funding bill, including 83 Republicans. “This should be pretty easy. ... We’re going to always have people who don’t want to spend money except in their districts.”

Criticism from conservatives of transportation initiatives “is one of the reasons Republicans have struggled in Northern Virginia,” said Davis, who plans to run for Senate next year if Sen. John Warner (R) decides not to run for re-election and who also has been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate.

Davis said his fellow Republicans need to understand that transportation is the No. 1 issue facing the region.

“I think if they want to be competitive, they can be for it; if they don’t want to be competitive [in Northern Virginia] — it’s a third of the state — they can vote against it,” Davis said.

And Davis argues that the national interest is clear.

“You’ve got to have a Metro system in the nation’s capital,” he said. “If there is a terrorist strike, you are going to need a strong Metro system.”

Stephanie Lundberg, a spokeswoman for Hoyer, also came to the bill’s defense. “It’s really kind of unfortunate,” she said of the criticism from Republican Members. “It would be helpful for those offices to survey their staffers on how they get to work and how their visitors get around.”

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