The long-delayed House and Senate conference to draft a multi-year transportation bill finally is on the road to beginning after Senate Republican and Democratic leaders settled a disagreement that had blocked progress on the legislation.

The Senate had approved a $318-billion measure in February, and the House had passed a $284-billion bill in early April. The next step normally would be a joint House-Senate conference committee to work out the differences between their respective versions. But since the House approved its bill, there has been almost no progress, because Senate Democrats had refused to agree to let the chamber name its conferees. That put things on hold.

But in floor statements on the evening of May 19, Senate party leaders announced a deal to end that logjam. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) offered "a commitment from both sides that they will work in good faith in conference to get the best possible result." Frist said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) would chair the talks with the House and added that Inhofe "has agreed he will not ...sign any conference report that would alter the text of [the Senate-passed transport bill] in a way that undermines the bipartisan working relationship that has existed in the Senate."


Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said he "can commit wholeheartedly to the good-faith process [Frist] proposed. Daschle added, "Our side understands that changes [in the Senate bill] will have to be made, and we are not entering this process demanding a specific outcome on any provision. Instead, we are asking any changes to [the Senate bill] be the result of the mutual agreement of the lead Senate conferees acting in good faith."

(Photo courtesy of office of Sen. Tom Daschle)