Senate passes $295B Highway bill

Despite a White House veto threat, the Senate passed its $295 billion highway bill yesterday, 89-11.

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 bill would authorize funding for federal-aid highways, highway safety and transit programs. The Senate version includes $11 billion to provide additional revenue for the Highway Trust Fund as a result of an amendment offered by Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

The bill will now move to conference, where it will face opposition from House GOP leaders who passed their companion legislation at the White House maximum in March. The House version of the bill would cost $284 billion over the next six years. 

Congressional leaders have received pressure from highway advocacy groups and the White House to reach a compromise, since the current highway funding extension will expire May 31. The current extension is the sixth in a series passed by Congress since the original act expired in 2003.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has come out strongly against adding billions to the bill, calling the move “irresponsible” and “unacceptable.” He urged the Senate to adhere to the White House budget. House leaders have also urged conferees to pass a bill the president will sign.

Last year, the Senate passed a highway bill totaling $318 billion, but the bill stalled in conference.

A bipartisan group of senators voted against the bill, including Finance Committee member Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).

Jackie Kucinich