WASHINGTON - On Tuesday the Senate approved a six-year, $295-billion highway and transit bill to build bigger and better roads to fight congestion and unsafe roadways. Republicans joined Democrats in saying the need for highway money was so great they were willing to risk a veto threat from the White House, which says the price tag is too high.
In more than two weeks of debate, senators repeated the same points: One-third of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, 29 percent of bridges are structurally deficient and 36 percent of urban rail vehicles are in substandard or poor condition. One-third of the 42,000 traffic fatalities every year result in part from poor road conditions.
"This bill will make a difference in the life of every American by making it easier and safer to move from place to place," Sen. James Jeffords, an independent from Vermont, said in urging the White House to withdraw its veto threat.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said anew that President Bush was "very serious" about fiscal responsibility and would be urged to veto any bill that exceeded $284-billion, the amount approved by the House in March.
The Senate vote was 89-11, with 46 of the chamber's 55 Republicans joining Democrats in voting for the measure despite the White House admonitions.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said he was at odds with the administration because "there are two areas where we need to spend money. One is national defense and the other is infrastructure."
The Senate now must work out its differences with the House-passed bill, which in addition to approving less money specifies thousands of specific projects requested by lawmakers. Almost all of the Senate money is divided among the states by a complicated formula that puts Florida in the top bracket, with an average annual apportionment of more than $1-billion through 2009.