Road ahead still bumpy in light of Bush
By Dan Morgan
The House, in an unusually strong rebuff to the White House,
voted 357 to 65 yesterday to approve a $275 billion transportation
bill that exceeds a spending limit set by President Bush and
is laden with thousands of highway and bridge projects for
The bill funds new roads, interchanges, bridges, bike paths,
ferry terminals and recreational trails. It authorizes an
experiment in the use of toll lanes on some congested highways,
to give motorists a choice of paying a fee instead of waiting
in traffic, and funds a pilot program that would separate
truck traffic from other vehicles. About $50 billion is set
aside for mass transit programs, including a study of a new
Purple Line for the Washington Metro.
An additional $6 billion would go to a new program attacking
transportation problems deemed to be of regional or national
significance. House aides said the money might be used to
improve north-south truck routes that have been strained by
the new demands of trade between Canada, Mexico and the United
The lopsided approval signaled that House supporters have
more than enough votes to override the president if he carries
through on a threat to exercise his first veto against the
measure. But the action left bitter feelings on the part of
dozens of Republican members who charged that -- despite the
proposed record spending -- their states were seriously shortchanged
in the final package. Fifty-nine Republicans voted against
The tensions within the GOP guarantee months of difficult
negotiations ahead for Republican House leaders as they try
to placate their members, reconcile the House bill with a
costlier $318 billion Senate version and fend off White House
demands for further cuts to bring the measure down to the
president's target of $256 billion. "This is still a
work in progress," cautioned Rep. Thomas E. Petri (R-Wis.),
who heads the House subcommittee overseeing highway programs.
The behemoth measure approved yesterday provides a blueprint
for federal highway, mass transit and safety programs over
the next six years. "It does what's necessary to keep
this country moving," said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska),
who chairs the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Members of both parties said the legislation is critically
needed to repair crumbling highways and bridges, relieve traffic
congestion and air pollution from vehicles, and provide jobs
in nearly every county in the nation.
But along with providing money for such broad-brush programs,
the bill became a magnet for scores of parochial pork-barrel
projects requested by lawmakers as the measure worked its
way through the House. Republicans and Democrats divvied up
an $11 billion pot of these "high priority" projects,
with the majority going to senior members, committee chairmen
and lawmakers serving on the Transportation Committee.
Such far-flung locations as Pago Pago, American Samoa islands,
and North Pole, Alaska, were singled out for projects.
The bill channels $16 million to "pedestrian walkway
improvements" in Houston, hometown of House Majority
Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).
There is also $10 million to construct a bridge joining Ketchikan,
Alaska, to the island of Gravina in the home state of Young.
A spokesman for the Alaska Republican said the project will
enable Ketchikan, a lumber and fishing town nestled between
mountains and sea, to expand across the bridge.
A 133-page amendment approved overwhelmingly Thursday provides
an additional $1 billion in new projects, including $7 million
to build a "Renaissance Square" in Rochester, N.Y.;
$3.4 million to pay for new vans for Boysville (Holy Cross
Children's Services), a Catholic-oriented nonprofit agency
in Clinton, Mich.; and $1 million to rehabilitate a historic
depot in Jesup, Ga.
Few resisted the spending juggernaut.
Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) charged in a news release that the
bill would "literally pave over the recent House-passed
budget resolution," undermining Congress's ability to
reduce the deficit. But an amendment by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
that could have wiped out pet projects of lawmakers and diverted
the money to the regular highway aid program went down to
defeat on Thursday, 367 to 60.
In the final scramble for a share of the funds, House leaders
stepped into the process to protect some fiscal conservatives
from retribution. These included Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.),
Who had incurred Young's wrath for opposing a gasoline tax
increase to raise more money for highway building.
As the bill moved toward House action, Young denied Musgrave's
request for $14 million in road building funds for her eastern
Colorado district. But House leaders shoehorned the money
into a last-minute amendment to the bill.