It’s not every day that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent millions in the last election to elect conservative candidates, rushes to the defense of a liberal Democrat like Rep. Joe Courtney, of Connecticut’s 2nd District.

But a nasty fight in Washington over the rules governing federal transportation spending has upended some of this city’s usual political alliances. And what started as a small skirmish has now become a pitched Washington-style battle, with talking points and counter memos flying from the Capitol to K Street and Courtney squarely in the middle.

The initial spark was a press release from Courtney, sent out last week, blasting a new Republican rule that he says would make it easier for the GOP to slash highway spending, including vital multi-year projects already approved in previous years.

House Republicans got ahold of his release, and a top GOP staffer drafted a point-by-point counter-offensive. He sent it to the National Governor’s Association and encouraged its widespread circulation.

“Here’s the full background on this and why some of Courtney’s statements/rhetoric is wrong/misplaced,” wrote the House GOP leadership aide, who is not fully identified in a copy of the memo obtained by the Mirror. “Can you share the info below with any Governor’s staffs that may be interested?”  

The memo attempts to rebut Courtney’s argument that the House GOP rule would undermine the federal Highway Trust Fund and jeopardize key high projects across the country.

For example, the memo says the new GOP rule would still protect the Highway Trust Fund from being diverted for non-transportation spending.

The Chamber and several other highway spending advocates responded in kind, with their own talking points arguing that Courtney and other critics of the GOP proposal were right about its impact.

The latter note wasn’t as widely circulated as the GOP one. Its main target was Rep. John Mica, a Republican from Florida and the incoming chairman of the House transportation committee, with the goal of bolstering his efforts within the Republican Conference to change the rule.

A vote on the GOP proposal is set for tomorrow afternoon.

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