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Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

House Republican leaders are scheduled this week to seek a floor vote on a major transportation bill that would be the centerpiece of their election-year message.

The five-year, $260 billion transportation measure would be paid for by energy drilling provisions that have been added to it. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his lieutenants are touting the bill as a job-creator and a remedy to the nation’s energy problems. 

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They hope the highway measure will help inoculate them from Democratic accusations that they are not focused on job creation and the economy.

But first they must pass the legislation through the House. 

Boehner last week said, “Will it pass? For the good of the country, I sure hope so. But that’s not up to me, that’s up to the House.” 

More specifically, it’s up to Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

McCarthy’s rookie year as whip had its ups and downs. The House GOP easily cleared its budget in 2011, and the passage of the Republican “Cut, cap and balance” plan was a triumph for the third-term lawmaker.

But he and his whip team failed to secure sufficient votes to pass Boehner’s initial debt-limit bill last summer, and it was pulled from the floor. 

This week’s challenge is different in that it has nothing to do with raising the debt ceiling. Yet it’s similar because few Democrats are expected to back it.

Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), in fact, said last week that “not one Democrat is going to vote for it.”

If that prediction bears out, McCarthy can afford only about two dozen defections. Any more, and the bill will fail. 

The Hill contacted 50 conservative House members last week, and most of them said they were undecided and still reviewing the bill. 

Right-leaning groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth oppose the bill. And it’s not an easy “yes” vote for Republicans facing contested primaries. 

The chances of the House bill becoming law are slim. But McCarthy’s goal now is to listen, cajole and persuade his colleagues, and ultimately pass the bill before the Presidents Day recess.