Congress set to approve $286.5 billion transportation bill

Bush veto not expected despite higher price tag

July 28, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - After nearly two years of political gridlock, congressional negotiators reached agreement yesterday on a $286.5 billion highway and mass transit spending bill aimed at providing relief from everybody's favorite gripe: traffic congestion.

The bill slightly exceeds the $284 billion that President Bush had set as his spending limit, but the White House is expected to avoid a veto showdown with the Republican-controlled Congress over the popular bill.

Deficit hawks have pressed Bush to make the highway bill a test of his pledge to clamp down on spending. But lawmakers from both parties are eager to highlight the bill, stuffed with hometown projects, as one of their major legislative accomplishments before breaking for their summer recess at the end of the week.

Even though the agreed-upon bill's text is not expected to be available until sometime today, some lawmakers already have announced local projects that they made sure were included.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan, though noncommittal on whether the president would accept the higher amount, contrasted the new figure with higher levels of spending originally proposed by members of Congress. The bill the Senate passed in May, for example, was funded at $295 billion.

The agreement comes nearly two years after the last big transportation bill, providing $218 billion over six years, expired in September 2003. The legislation agreed to yesterday covers the period from fiscal year 2004 to fiscal year 2009. The expired law repeatedly was extended so that projects that had already been started could continue, but no new programs could begin until new legislation was passed and signed into law.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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