The House has opened debate on a six-year, $284-billion highway and transit bill but the outcome is clouded by a White House veto threat. House members made speeches April 1 about the measure, the "Transportation Equity Act--a Legacy for Users," and a transportation committee aide said final action is expected the following day.
The "TEA-LU" bill has been scaled back sharply from a $375-billion proposal from Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska). After the White House objected to the increased federal motor fuels taxes Young's earlier proposal would require, House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said he would consider a bill totaling $275 billion, which is the amount of actual obligations contained in the reduced TEA-LU.
But on March 30, the White House issued a formal position statement on the new TEA-LU bill, and said that unless changes were made in the legislation, senior administration officials would recommend that President Bush veto it.
In its statement, the White House focused its objections on two issues. One is the $284 billion the bill authorizes, which is $28 billion higher than Bush has requested. The other issue is a provision aimed at adding more money to TEA-LU later. It would bar states from obligating highway funds after Sept. 30, 2005, unless enough funds are added to provide more to "donor" states. Such states pay more in highway user taxes than they get back in federal highway aid.
Of the $284 billion in TEA-LU, the White House says, $232 billion would go for highways and highway safety and the other $52 billion for transit.
The Senate in February approved a $318-billion transportation bill.
The previous multi-year authorization measure, the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, provided about $220 billion. It expired last September and the transportation programs have been operating since then under two temporary extensions. The second such extension expires at the end of April.