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Boehner May Tie Keystone to Extending Highway Funding

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Speaker John Boehner is reportedly preparing a 90-day “clean” extension of federal highway and transit programs that would include provisions opening the Keystone pipeline as a vehicle for beginning conference talks with the Senate, GOP aides said today.

After making legislation tying energy production and highways his signature policy measure, Boehner has struggled to make progress in the face of broad opposition within his own conference. Although a “grand bargain” on energy and transportation never drew the support Boehner had hoped for, he is still intent on linking the two issues, and a GOP leadership aide today said Keystone is ripe for action given the Obama administration’s actions.

“American families and small businesses are struggling with high gas prices, and President Obama’s policies are only making things worse. In fact, gas prices have doubled on the president’s watch,” the GOP aide said.

“This bill will pave the way for a House-Senate conference to discuss both reforming how taxpayer dollars are spent on federal infrastructure programs, and also meaningful solutions that would address high gas prices and create jobs by permanently removing government barriers to American energy production,” the aide added.

Passing a short-term measure that includes Keystone is a key step for Boehner. He hopes to include some energy provisions in a final transportation conference, because the rules require one chamber to include a provision in its version of a bill if it is to be considered in order during conference proceedings.

More significantly, it could help coax holdout conservatives to back the bill. Although moderate and old-line Republicans will likely continue to oppose the measure, so far they have formed a formidable defense against the bill with the 50 or so hard-line conservatives in the House against Boehner’s various attempts to pass a transportation bill. Peeling off enough Republicans with the promise of Keystone being included could break the deadlock.

In March, Transportation Weekly first reported the possibility of connecting Keystone to a short-term extension as a vehicle to begin conference talks.

Whether Keystone could survive a conference is unclear. The Senate passed a strongly bipartisan measure last month that would extend highway and transit for two years, and Democrats have been adamant in their messaging that highways not be held “hostage” to the Keystone issue.

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