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Speaker Refashions Transit Bill

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Speaker John Boehner’s original bill will be separated into an energy bill, a stand-alone transportation measure and a package of ways to pay for the overall product, an aide said.

Once again, it appears Speaker John Boehner might have overestimated his Conference’s willingness to support one of his legislative packages and finds himself forced to scrap plans for a grand transportation and energy bill.

The legislation, which will now be broken into three smaller parts in the hopes of salvaging at least the energy portions, was expected to be the Ohio Republican’s most substantial mark on policy, fundamentally reforming how the government funds highway and mass transit projects.

But, facing a revolt not just from conservatives but also from rank-and-file Members with parochial concerns, Boehner abandoned that plan, and the bill instead underwent the legislative equivalent of being drawn and quartered.

The decision to carve up the bill for parts took much of the House by surprise. Just hours before the Rules Committee was expected to take up the bill, Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Boehner released a joint statement announcing the decision and attempting to put the best spin on the situation.

“Republicans pledged to pass bills in a more transparent manner and reverse the era of quickly moving massive bills across the floor without proper examination. Accordingly, the energy/infrastructure jobs plan will be considered on the floor in the same manner in which it was written and voted upon in committee — in separate pieces,” Boehner and Dreier said.

Such a process will allow “each major component of the plan to be debated and amended more openly, rather than as a single ‘comprehensive’ bill with
limited debate and limited opportunity for amendment,” they added.

Democrats brushed aside Boehner’s reasoning.

“Despite their spin, it appears Republican leaders are starting to get nervous that they do not have the votes to pass this highly controversial bill, which should not surprise anyone, given no other surface transportation bill has generated near the controversy, rancor or partisanship in the 56-year history of the Interstate Highway System,” Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Nick Rahall
(D-W.Va.) said Tuesday.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) agreed, telling reporters “the Republicans are not united, and they’re trying to figure out how to get from where they are to where they want to be.”

“They’re not splitting it up for us, they’re splitting it up because they’re trying to resolve their internal deep disagreements. They’re a caucus divided among themselves,” he added.

Rules Committee Democrats also are expressing outrage about the move. In a letter addressed to Dreier, the Members said splitting the package up into “random bills” is making “an already bad situation worse,” and they called on Dreier to postpone the Rules meeting.

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