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Highway Bill Splits House GOP

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Speaker John Boehner remains hopeful his team can round up enough GOP support to pass a 90-day extension of the transportation bill.

House GOP leaders face a bumpy road within their own party over the direction of a long-term transportation spending extension, even as they prepare for a vote Wednesday.

Although Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) remains hopeful his team can round up enough GOP support to pass a 90-day extension — a bill that would be used to start talks with the Senate on a longer extension — conservatives continue to chafe at the idea, worried it will mean the Senate’s version will prevail.

Specifically, conservatives worry that because the bill is a “clean” extension and does not include any of the reforms to highway and transit programs originally proposed by Boehner, they would automatically be precluded from being considered during a conference committee.

GOP aides said it was particularly frustrating to suddenly have conservatives both within the Conference and with outside organizations demanding reforms be included in the shell bill, given their vociferous opposition to Boehner’s original bill and the various iterations he has floated since February.

What was once seen as Boehner’s effort to leave his imprint on a fundamental aspect of the federal government has since devolved into a legislative nightmare. It was originally envisioned as a grand bargain of sorts linking revenues from energy exploration to spending on highway construction, but Boehner has been stymied by a coalition of conservatives and old-line Republicans with concerns over parochial issues ranging from port spending to union provisions.

Boehner has sought to sweeten the legislation with his latest offering by including language mandating the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. But many conservatives have questioned the strength of the provision.

In a blog post Monday, Heritage Action for America bluntly warned against voting for the 90-day bill.

“Lawmakers and their constituents should understand that a vote for the 90-day extension enables the Senate-passed bill to become law. Wednesday’s vote is nothing more than a face-saving kabuki dance that ignores the ‘clear message’ sent by the American people just 17 months ago,” Heritage Action said.

Conservatives echoed those same concerns during a Members-only conference call on the bill organized by Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) late Friday afternoon.

During the call, several members of the Conference’s conservative wing pressed McCarthy on why Boehner was moving forward with a shell bill that does not include key reforms to the highway and transit programs.

According to one GOP source familiar with the call, Members repeatedly argued that “if this going to be our offer and our vehicle to get to conference, why don’t we put all the reforms into it?”

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