...return now is 90.5%, set by the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. Cohen says a $284-billion bill could support a 92% return. Donors prefer an even better return.

"The open question is how far Congress is able to go and keep the administration on board," says Associated General Contractors CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. All sides want a deal before transportation programs lapse May 31.

Spending: House Appropriations Panel Reorganizes

Under new chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the House Appropria-tions
Committee intends to do some downsizing. Lewis has proposed
reducing the number of appropriations subcommittees to 10,
from 13 now. The plan eliminates subcommittees that oversee
budgets for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection
Agency, military construction and other programs. Those accounts
would shift to other subcommittees, expanding their jurisdiction.

Lewis claims his plan improves efficiency. But Wisconsin’s David Obey, the committee’s senior Democrat, argues that the shift is political. Senate GOP appropriators are sticking with 13 subcommittees and are not embracing the House plan. How they will deal with fewer House bills is an open question.

OSHA: Bills Aim To Ease Small Firms’ Regulatory Load

House Republicans are taking another stab at legislation that they say will improve Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules. On Feb. 10, GOP leaders of the workforce protections subcommittee introduced four bills that they claim will ease unintentional burdens that existing rules place on many small businesses. Each measure passed the House last year, but they were never considered in the Senate.

National Association of Home Builders President David Wilson says that the changes will reduce the regulatory load for small businesses "when they try to work within OSHA’s complicated system of due process." Wilson also says the bills will "provide OSHA with greater flexibility to respond to small businesses without sacrificing workplace safety."

Tort Reform: House Will Consider Class- Action Legislation

A bill that would overhaul the civil liability system continues on a fast track. At press time, the House was on the verge of voting on legislation that would shift most class-action lawsuits from state courts to federal courts.

The Senate Feb. 10 approved the measure without amendment by a 72-26 vote. House GOP leaders promised to take up the legislation immediately if it passed the Senate without changes. President Bush has pledged to sign the bill.

Compiled by Sherie Winston