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John Boehner Struggles to Secure Support for Transportation Bill

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.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have moved to protect their own bill against procedural maneuvers Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) might use to try to ensure he gets a vote on his plan to cut off aid to Egypt until Americans being held there are released.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday used his own procedural maneuvers to block amendments to his chamber’s transportation bill.

Reid set up a cloture vote for Friday on his amendment to merge the Environment and Public Works Committee’s bill with portions of the bill that fell under the purview of the Finance, Commerce and Banking committees.

Paul has already delayed the confirmation of a judge this week when he forced the Senate to use the full 30 hours after cloture was invoked on the nomination of Adalberto Jose Jordan to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The move also kept the Senate from reverting to the transportation bill it had been considering.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) opposes Paul’s amendment, in part because he is scheduled to travel to Cairo during the recess.

“Sen. McCain continues to work to find a constructive solution to the current impasse in the Senate,” a McCain aide said. “Sen. McCain does not believe it would be helpful to hold a vote to cut off aid at this sensitive time when Americans are not permitted to leave Egypt. Sen. McCain is traveling to Cairo this weekend to discuss the issue with the Egyptian government and hopes that progress can be achieved.”

About 19 Americans are among 43 individuals who are being detained after being accused of illegally receiving foreign money in a case against local and overseas-based nongovernmental organizations. Paul wants to use the approximately $1.3 billion a year the United States provides to Egypt as incentive for the Egyptian authorities to release the Americans.

Reid on Wednesday castigated Senators, such as Paul, for seeking to file non-
germane amendments.

“We have 100 amendments that have been filed already on this bill,” Reid said on the floor. “Very few of them are related to the bill.”

If the Senate cuts off debate on the amendment, Senate leaders are expected to work over the recess to put together a list of amendments that would get votes when the chamber returns.

But it is an open question whether there is enough GOP support to cut off debate, because Republicans have chafed when Reid limits their ability to offer amendments.

If debate is not cut off, Reid has set up a cloture vote on Jesse M. Furman to be a district judge in the Southern District of New York.

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