Hastert: Bush didn't commit to signing a $275-billion bill, but didn't say he would veto it

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has said he plans to push for a $275-billion, six-year transportation reauthorization bill, a level that is slightly above the Bush administration's proposal, but well below the amount that the Senate approved.

In a meeting with reporters on March 11, Hastert said that a $275-billion bill would be about 25% higher than the last reauthorization, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, which provided about $220 billion over its six-year life.

But Hastert's plan would be $100 billion less than a proposal from Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska). Hastert said that the $375-billion proposal probably was based on what its advocates "perceived as needs, but it wasn't sustained by revenue." He added, "The White House has laid out the parameters that we have to sustain it with the revenue." He also said that "the numbers have to be something that we can get passed in the House that won't get vetoed and that we can negotiate with the Senate."


In February, the Senate passed a $318-billion successor to TEA-21, but the Bush administration issued a veto threat for the bill. Whatever the size of the bill the House approves, it would have to be reconciled with the Senate version in a conference committee.

Hastert noted that with a $275-billion bill, House lawmakers "will have their needs met, maybe not quite as fully as they would have hoped, but they will have their needs met. We need to get a bill done"

Hastert said House Republicans "will...be working as diligently as possible on a highway bill, and we hope to have that moving along pretty quick."

He also said that Bush, who supports a $256-billion measure, "didn't make a commitment" to sign a $275-billion bill, but also didn't say he would veto such a measure.

Hastert said he wasn't receiving "straight numbers" on the highway bill from Bush's "people" and said, "I don't deal with his people anymore."

TEA-21 expired last Sept. 30, prompting Congress to extend authorizations for the highway and transit programs twice. The current extension expires April 30.

John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said, "We commend Speaker Hastert for his efforts to get a bill moving. But we hope the ultimate outcome will be the $318-billion Senate funding level that is needed to begin to meet the nation's highway and transit needs."

(Photo courtesy of the office of House Speaker Hastert)