News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, MAY 15, 2005


GOP canít avoid gridlock on federal highway bill

There's a showdown looming in Washington, D.C., that has been brewing for nearly two years and could come to a head as soon as the end of this month.

Both sides are firmly entrenched. Neither has even hinted at the possibility of a compromise.

The issue: a six-year highway and mass transit-funding bill. The last six-year highway bill, funded at $218 billion, expired in September, 2003. Unable to come up with a new bill, Congress continues to pass temporary extensions of the old measure. The latest extension, the sixth, is due to expire May 31.

The parties involved in the dispute are the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress.

In a rare break with the president, Senate Republicans joined Democrats on Wednesday in rejecting a transportation bill spending ceiling set by President Bush.

Mr. Bush initially proposed a spending cap of $256 billion on highways, bridges and mass transit and threatened to veto any measure proposing more spending. But after the House settled on $284 billion in March, the White House waffled and vowed to go along, but again threatened to veto any highway bill that exceeds the $284 billion limit.

But 33 Senate Republicans joined Democrats on Wednesday in support of a $295 billion highway-spending plan.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Gassley, R-Iowa, said the White House's insistence on a fixed figure would lead to a repeat of last year's gridlock on the highway bill.The forces at work here are lawmakers' desire to bring home the pork and the president's aspirations for voters to see him as fiscally responsible and firm in his veto promise.

Apparently, saving face is the one card in Washington that trumps party loyalty. If the disputants fail to come up with a compromise, of course, they can always blame the Democrats.

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