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John Boehner Struggles to Secure Support for Transportation Bill

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

Speaker John Boehner on Wednesday struggled to salvage his plan to remake the nation’s transportation policies, temporarily pulling the measure from the House Rules Committee as he worked to shore up eroding GOP support.

Boehner’s difficulties were apparent after he first scrapped his “grand bargain” style energy and transportation bill Tuesday. The Ohio Republican then yanked the transportation piece from the Rules Committee on Wednesday after support continued to drop off.

“Look, I know some of you still have concerns about this plan. That’s why I want you to have a chance to offer amendments, to have a full debate on the floor,” Boehner said during the GOP’s weekly Conference meeting, according to a participant.

But Boehner’s hand was forced by more than a desire for “full debate,” as Republicans from across the ideological spectrum broke with their leader.

Boehner’s maneuverings drew a strong rebuke from Democrats.

“The Republicans’ reckless attempt to jam through a partisan surface transportation bill that will never see the light of day has just backfired. Every day House Republicans refuse to return to the drawing board and work to develop a bipartisan bill is another day we waste in putting Americans back to work rebuilding our nation,” Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member Nick Rahall
(D-W.Va.) said Wednesday.

Boehner still plans to push forward with the bill after next week’s recess, and GOP leadership aides said the Speaker and his leadership team have not discussed scrapping the bill completely.

But that could become a possibility if Republicans dig in following a recess week filled with attack ads on the measure and meetings with state and local transportation officials who are unhappy with the bill. Taxpayers for Common Sense is already up with ads attacking the bill in numerous districts, and conservative groups are lobbying Members to oppose it.

Even supporters, who have tirelessly kept a positive face when discussing the measure with reporters, were beginning to show signs of frustration.

“The transportation bill is very important to every Member, and every Member has got their own transportation issues. … With no earmarks, you can’t just resolve these things behind closed doors. You have to have full and open debate,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), who has been tasked with moving the bill through the chamber.

A second Member who has backed the bill said “there’s a lot of frustration” with how leadership has handled the measure, although the Republican was quick to say that supporters remain “cautiously optimistic” they can overcome opposition.

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