Though faced with a Bush administration veto threat, the House has approved a six-year transportation bill that would obligate $275 billion over six years for highway and transit programs. The vote, at about mid-day on April 2, was 357-65. The measure next must be reconciled in a conference committee with the $318-billion version the Senate passed in February.

Young: bill doesn't
‘completely do the job,' but is
‘a step forward.'

Before the vote, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), the bill's sponsor, called it "a very good piece of bipartisan legislation." He said that the $275 billion "does not completely do the job" of providing enough money for roads and transit, but he added that it was "a step forward."

The House margin is well above the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto of the legislation, titled the Transportation Equity Act--a Legacy for Users (TEA-LU). But after the bill was approved, Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) told reporters he feels there are "absolutely" enough House votes to sustain a veto.

DeLay said, "The vote just reflects everybody's understanding of getting into conference and then getting all three sides together and working out the bill that the President can sign." The "three sides" are the House, Senate and Bush administration.

DeLay: foresees enough votes to sustain a veto

Construction Industry officials praised the House action. Stephen E. Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors, said, "This gives significant momentum to our efforts to see a conference agreement this year that is closer to the Senate level and closer to the amount necessary to meet America's transportation needs."

Peter Ruane, president and CEO of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, said that the House approval was a positive step but that its funding falls short of meeting infrastructure needs. He said, "The Senate-passed bill should be considered the six-year investment floor by the conferees."

The White House estimated the bill's total authorizations at $284 billion as the measure went to the floor, but Young's committee uses a $275-billion figure when referring to the legislation. After TEA-LU had cleared committee, staffers said while its authorizations exceed $280 billion, its limit on actual obligations is $275 billion.

In a formal statement on the TEA-LU measure, the White House said senior officials would recommend a veto because the bill's funding exceeds the $256 billion the administration has proposed. The other item that triggered the veto threat is a provision to halt the bill's funding on Sept. 30, 2005, unless enough money is added at that point to increase the minimum return states are guaranteed on the fuel taxes they pay. TEA-LU continues the current 90.5% return, but the "reopener" provision seeks to boost that to 92% in 2005, and in stages to 95% in 2009.

(Photos courtesy of Office of Rep. Don Young
and Office of Rep. Tom DeLay)