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Boehner Scrambles to Save Highway Bill

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Updated: 3:52 p.m.

Speaker John Boehner is scrapping plans to pursue his signature transportation and energy package as one large measure and will instead break it into three smaller pieces, a move GOP aides said is aimed at overcoming internal Republican opposition.

In a joint statement with Rules Chairman David Dreier (Calif.), the Ohio Republican sought to cast the decision as part of his pledge for a more open environment in the House.

“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.

But 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.

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, does not enjoy broad support. One GOP leadership aide said “hopefully this will make it easier” to pass all three.

But a Republican aide was extremely skeptical, saying the bill has pitted factions of the party against itself on issues ranging from preferential treatment for certain ports, public transportation spending, off-shore drilling and even anti-union provisions.

“This is a mess,” the aide said.

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

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters this afternoon that he does not support splitting up the bill and has some issues with certain offsets in the package, especially those that affect federal workers.

"It's clear that although it's a partisan bill, 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," Hoyer said. "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."

Rules Committee Democrats are expressing outrage about the move as well. In a letter addressed to Dreier obtained by Roll Call, the Members said splitting the package up into "random bills" is making "an already bad situation worse," and they called on Dreier to postpone today's meeting.

"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."

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