WASHINGTON (AP) -- In an attempt at compromise with the Bush administration, the Senate has endorsed the creation of a National Highway System, a 185,000-mile grid of the most vital U.S. highways.
But the Senate was unable to agree to changes in the controversial spending formula by which federal highway dollars are awarded to the states, slowing progress of the massive transportation bill.
Republican senators planned to huddle today in an attempt both to resolve that dispute and to agree on efforts to divide the $8 billion surplus in the Highway Trust Fund.
"The only issue that is left is the fight over the money," said Sen. Steve Symms, R-Idaho, the Republican floor manager of the bill.
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine, who had vowed to keep the Senate in session until agreement was reached, said Republican senators wanted time to consult with all of their GOP colleagues and make sure there is a full understanding of the issues at stake.
Mitchell said final passage of the bill now is unlikely until Monday evening at the earliest.
Earlier, after senators offered a series of amendments he said were aimed at squeezing more money out of the bill for their states, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-
N.Y., said the overall situation could be summed up in one word: Plunder!"
"It is an ominous event, and those who think they will get more by being difficult may get nothing," said Moynihan, a principal architect of the legislation.
"And that is, perhaps, what they deserve, in the judgment of this senator," he said.
But other senators said Moynihan was overreacting and that despite some "chipping away" at the bill, its essential elements have been preserved.
They said these include the effort to give states great flexibility in spending half of the money the measure would provide to meet their individual transportation needs.
At issue in the dispute over the allocation formula are attempts to satisfy so-called "donor" states which have bitterly complained that they have contributed more to the Highway Trust Fund in the form of gasoline taxes than they have had returned in the form of highway aid.
The negotiations centered on attempts to offset that imbalance by dividing the $8 billion surplus in the trust fund.