* U.S. House would vote on separate proposals
* Energy, transit proposals spark controversy
* Obama wants big changes in any final bill
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON, Feb 14 Republican leaders
approved procedural steps on Tuesday to prevent a $260 billion
transportation bill from disintegrating in the House of
Representatives as the White House threatened to the veto any
final measure that did not include major changes.
Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants, concluding they
did not have enough support within their own ranks to ram the
bill through the chamber, decided to break the proposal into
three pieces and vote on each separately.
This approach, they believe, would simplify debate and slow
the momentum of Democrats and some Republicans who have
threatened to derail the five-year bill over politically charged
energy and funding provisions.
"We are determined to allow as many members to participate
and offer their amendments on the floor as possible," Boehner
and House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier said in a
statement. "The process will facilitate this."
Infrastructure is considered an economic stimulus, and
Republicans and Democrats are under election-year pressure to
create jobs with unemployment easing but still stubbornly high.
Most recent Transportation Department figures show that
27,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion in federal spending
on road, bridge and transit construction.
Measures to be considered separately in the House in coming
days include controversial proposals approved by the chamber's
energy, tax writing and transportation committees.
These initiatives would fund part of the transportation bill
through expanded domestic oil and gas drilling, would fast-track
the stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas and
would remove dedicated funding for mass transit.
Approved measures then would be repackaged into a single
transportation plan that would serve as the basis for the House
in any negotiations with the Senate on a final bill.
A two-year, $109 billion transportation proposal working its
way through the Senate has its own hurdles to clear. Republicans
there are also pushing for the Keystone pipeline.
President Barack Obama's top deputy on transportation, Ray
LaHood, has described the House version as the worst proposal of
its kind that he has ever seen. "It's a lousy bill," LaHood, a
former Republican congressman from Illinois, said this week.
The White House followed up late on Tuesday with a statement
formally opposing the House measure as written and threatening a
presidential veto if a number of elements were included in any
final bill passed by Congress.
Specifically, the administration said it strongly objected
to the Keystone proposal and the oil and gas drilling plan that
includes opening up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to
TransCanada Corp is the chief backer of the
Obama also opposes the proposal to change transit funding,
which Democrats and many Republicans say would short-change
long-term resources for subway, bus and light-rail projects.
A sharply divided Congress has been unable to agree on a new
law authorizing long-term federal spending on transportation
programs. The last one expired in 2009 and a series of temporary
spending bills have filled the gap since.
The current stop-gap spending bill expires on March 31.
Neither chamber is considering Obama's proposal for a
six-year, $476 billion transportation plan that would be funded
with savings from war spending.