- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

In a rare breach with the president, Senate Republicans joined Democrats in rejecting a spending ceiling set by the White House for a six-year highway and mass-transit funding bill.

The Senate voted 76-22 yesterday to defeat an attempt to rule that the $295 billion bill added to the federal deficit and thus violated budget rules.

Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican and Budget Committee chairman, initiated the budgetary point of order against the bill, saying it was “quite simply, unequivocally, unquestionably, a budget buster.”

It “seems a little bit inappropriate” to ignore the spending limits set by the president, he said.

The White House yesterday repeated its warning that President Bush would be advised to veto any highway bill that exceeded the $284 billion amount to which he had agreed.

Mr. Bush “urges the Senate to prevent any further delay and send him a bill he can sign,” said Scott Milburn, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.

Mr. Gregg was joined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, in backing Mr. Bush, saying the bill can pass smoothly only if Congress stays within the spending parameters laid out in the budget passed late last month and backed by the White House.

But 33 Republicans, citing the deteriorating state of the nation’s roadways and the importance of the bill to generating jobs nationwide, joined Democrats in supporting the $295 billion level.

“We have to have this money for safety, for economic development, for continued growth and the health of our economy,” said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican and chairman of the Environment and Public Works transportation and infrastructure subcommittee.

“As a conservative Republican, I wholeheartedly support it,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

The last six-year highway bill, funded at $218 billion, expired in September 2003, and Congress has been unable to come up with a new bill.

The House in March went along with the White House in passing a $284 billion bill for highway, public transit and safety programs through fiscal 2009.

But support for a bigger bill has been strong in the Senate, and the two top members of the Senate Finance Committee on Monday introduced a package of revenue measures that they said would allow an extra $11 billion for infrastructure funding without increasing the federal deficit.

Sens. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and committee chairman, and Max Baucus, Montana Democrat and the ranking member on the panel, said they accomplished that by shifting some funds that normally go into the general Treasury fund into the Highway Trust Fund, the main source for highway projects, and taking other steps to increase revenues.

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