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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.

“At best, this is a thinly veiled attempt to force through bad legislation that many of your own Members do not support,” they wrote. “At worst, this new approach is in direct violation of your own leadership’s stated commitment to transparency and undermines the integrity of the legislative process for the sake of political expediency.”

Privately, GOP aides said leadership had come to terms with the fact that parochial divisions within the Republican Conference, united Democratic opposition and a conservative faction opposed to federal highway spending had made the measure politically unwieldy and all but certain to be defeated on the floor.

According to a senior aide familiar with the decision, Boehner’s bill — which had originally linked transportation spending with energy production revenues — will now be separated into an energy bill, a stand-alone transportation measure and a package of ways to pay for the overall package.

The energy and pay-for bills are expected to pass easily. Neither include any significantly new language, and House Republicans have already passed much of the language in separate legislation.

The transportation bill, however, is where the difficulty comes in. One Republican aide said the measure has pitted GOP factions against one another on issues ranging from preferential treatment for certain ports, public transportation spending, offshore drilling and even anti-union provisions.

“This is a mess,” the aide said.

A GOP leadership aide rejected that characterization. “It’s all scheduling. Nothing is or was ‘doomed,’” the leadership aide said.

Meanwhile, Senate leaders are working on a list of amendments that would be offered to a $109 billion measure on that chamber’s floor that would reauthorize surface transportation programs for two years.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is walking a fine line as he looks to whittle the amendment list but retain enough Republican support to pass the legislation. Aides expect debate to slip until after the Presidents Day recess.

On Tuesday, Reid complained of GOP efforts to offer amendments not germane to the transportation bill, but he said he has agreed to allow a vote on an amendment to allow employers and insurance companies to opt out of requirements in the health care reform law that would violate their religious principles.

Details are being worked out, said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a lead sponsor of the amendment along with GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.).

“I will continue to work with my colleagues to find a way to be sure that people who have faith-based objections to these new mandates have right of action that allows them to challenge those mandates,” Blunt said Tuesday.

The amendment comes in response to a rule put forth by the Obama administration that would require insurance companies to provide and pay for contraception services. The rule initially would have required employers, including Catholic hospitals, to provide and pay for the services, but the White House changed it to accommodate religious leaders’ positions.

Republicans charge the rule still does not take into account the conscience of religious employers, such as the Catholic Church, which opposes contraception.

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