- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2012

House Republican leaders have scrambled to repackage their transportation bill after a hard push by Speaker John A. Boehner failed to sell the measure to many reluctant members of his party.

The list of gripes about the bill is long and divergent. Some say the proposal is an egregious example of government overspending while others say it cuts too much from sacred projects in their districts.

The measure’s push to increase drilling in environmentally sensitive areas of Alaska has even drawn the ire of some of Mr. Boehner’s fellow Republicans.

And unlike past transportation bills - generally among the most bipartisan measures in Congress - this year’s House GOP version isn’t expected to get much, if any, Democratic support.

“It is the most partisan transportation bill that I have seen in my 30 years in the Congress,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

So Tuesday, House GOP leaders announced their massive $260 billion measure - which would fund federal highway, surface transit and transportation safety programs for five years - would be broken into pieces. The move will allow lawmakers to vote against particular provisions without jeopardizing the entire package.

Floor debate on the bill could begin as early as Wednesday.

“The [bill] will be considered on the floor in the same manner in which it was written and voted upon in committee - in separate pieces, allowing 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,” said Mr. Boehner, of Ohio, and House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, California Republican, in a joint statement.

“This more open, inclusive process will continue the contrast between the new Republican majority in the House and the previous Democratic majority, whose preference for large bills with limited debate and minimal opportunities for amendment infamously resulted in flawed legislation.”

The White House on Tuesday evening said the president’s senior advisers are recommending he veto the House bill if it passes Congress because it “jeopardizes safety, weakens environmental and labor protections, and fails to make the investments needed to strengthen the Nations roads, bridges, rail, and transit systems.”

Rep. Jeff Flake, a fiscally conservative Republican from Arizona, has expressed concerns because many states, including his, get back less than 100 percent of the share they pay into the Highway Trust Fund.

In order to make the bill more palatable to conservatives, House GOP leaders included in the measure funding mechanisms for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and expanded oil drilling, both offshore and in the Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But even that move has backfired a bit, as some Republicans say provisions to pay for infrastructure projects with future oil royalties is a budget gimmick that could exacerbate future budget deficits.

“Given the complexity and necessity of passing such an important measure, it makes more sense to leave out a contentious provision to open ANWR to drilling, which poses significant fiscal and environmental challenges,” said Rep. Charles F. Bass of New Hampshire in a letter he and five other House Republicans jointly wrote last week to their party leaders.

Some outside conservative groups also are opposed. The anti-tax group Club for Growth has called it a “remarkably bloated and inefficient piece of legislation.”

Even Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former House Republican, has called the measure “the worst transportation bill” he’s seen in decades.

In contrast, the Senate has crated a two-year $109 billion surface transportation bill in largely bipartisan fashion. A vote on the measure is expected later this week.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s 2013 budget, which he unveiled Monday, calls for spending almost $500 billion over six years on transportation infrastructure.

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