WASHINGTON - The Senate approved yesterday a $318 billion, six-year transportation bill that pits lawmakers eager to bring popular highway projects to their states in an election year against a president determined to restrain spending.
The bill, which the White House regards as too costly, has emerged as a potential target for President Bush's first veto.
But a majority of Bush's fellow Republicans joined 41 Democrats in supporting the measure, calling it the "biggest job creation bill" that will come before Congress this year. The GOP-controlled chamber passed the bill, 76-21, with four Democrats joining 17 Republicans in voting against it.
"It is an essential investment in moving our economy forward while also making it safe for us to use our highways and rail systems," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said, adding that he hopes to find ways to trim the bill's costs as it makes its way through Congress. The House has yet to act on its version of the bill, which is more expensive at $375 billion. The White House has proposed a $256 billion bill.
The Senate measure calls for spending $255 billion on highways over the next six years and $56.5 billion for mass transit - including building rail lines and buying buses. The total is $100 billion more than the six-year transportation measure approved in 1998.
Several GOP senators chided members of their party for failing to hold down spending.
"When does it stop?" said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "When does the Republican Party find its soul?"
But the bill's supporters said the deteriorating condition of roads posed a threat to public safety. "What about the people who die because the roads are no good?" said Sen. Jim Talent, a Republican from Missouri.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.