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Highway Bill Finally Clears Roadblocks

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Speaker John Boehner attempted to make transportation issues one of his top priorities this Congress, but his bill ended up facing backlash from his own Conference.

For Boehner, linking energy production and transportation spending was a no-brainer for conservatives in his party. He “really thought it was something that would get a lot of support,” a leadership aide acknowledged.

But instead of backing, Boehner faced an immediate — and open — backlash. Conservatives denounced the bill for not including enough devolution to the states while moderates and old-line Members slammed it over dozens of parochial issues, ranging from coastal drilling to spending on ports.

After several days of pushing the measure, Boehner opted to break it into parts and quickly passed the energy titles, most of which had previously been approved by the House.

But opposition to the transportation piece not only remained, it became increasingly entrenched over the next several weeks as Boehner floated various revisions and rewrites.

By late last week it had become clear that he would be unable to wrangle his Conference into supporting a full reauthorization, and Boehner decided to cut his losses and find a path forward to a conference committee with the Senate.

Working with a handful of Members, Boehner put together a list of reforms that could be added to a 90-day extension of current spending — as well as language on the Keystone XL pipeline — as sweeteners to persuade Republicans to agree to go to conference.

Boehner praised passage of the bill — in so far as it included the Keystone language.

“The House is on record again in support of the Keystone XL energy pipeline — a project President Obama blocked, personally lobbied against, then tried to take credit for and now says he’ll veto,” Boehner said.

Although initially critical, many Democrats supported the bill in hopes that the conference process would produce a workable bill.

“Taking Republicans at their word that they are serious about moving this process forward, passage of this extension of current law through the end of the fiscal year will allow us to go to conference with the Senate on their bipartisan multiyear bill, which passed with the support of three-quarters of the Senate,” Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said in a statement.

Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.

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