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House Republicans delay vote on transportation bill

From Deirdre Walsh, CNN Senior Congressional Producer
updated 1:58 PM EST, Wed February 15, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House Speaker Boehner says it's better to wait and get it right
  • Democrats oppose the measure, meaning Republicans need strong GOP support
  • The measure doesn't have any earmarks traditionally associated with transportation bills

Washington (CNN) -- House Speaker John Boehner told his Republican caucus Wednesday that the House will postpone voting on a massive transportation and energy bill until after the congressional recess scheduled for next week, according to multiple House Republican leadership aides.

The move was a sign that GOP leaders were still struggling to put together the votes to pass the measure that funds highway programs and includes several energy measures, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

GOP leaders had planned to vote on the bill this week, in several pieces. However, with most Democrats making it clear they would oppose the measure, top Republican leaders faced the task of passing it with mostly GOP support.

House Republicans are divided on the measure, with some conservatives thinking the level of spending is too high while several moderate Republicans object to drilling in ANWR.

Boehner told rank-and-file Republicans at a meeting Wednesday morning that "it's more important that we do it right than that we do it fast," according to one aide who attended the meeting.

The aide maintained that the reason for the delay was GOP leaders must find new ways to offset some of the costs. One proposal -- a cut to federal employees pension plans -- is no longer available because it's being used to help pay for the payroll tax cut extension.

On Tuesday House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer blasted the transportation bill and said Democrats weren't consulted, telling reporters that "it continues to be a sad fact that this House is as partisan body as I've seen it ever."

Hoyer also pointed out that there was a bipartisan transportation bill pending in the Senate.

Traditionally, major highway bills are stuffed with money set aside for members' pet projects in their districts -- bridges or highway expansions that they go home and claim credit for getting funded.

After House Republicans took control in 2010, they banned earmarks, making it tougher to build support for the transportation bill. Several GOP aides pointed out that the last major transportation legislation passed by Congress contained more than 6,000 earmarks, while this House GOP bill has none.

The House will begin debating the bill this week, but votes on the measure aren't expected until after the House returned from a recess scheduled for next week.

CNN's Lizzie O'Leary contributed to this report.

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