An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
May 11, 2005
The White House likes to blame the Democrats when things go wrong in Congress - and they do have much to answer for - but the highway bill is an all-Republican show with Democrats in a purely supporting role.
The showdown also brings two guiding principals into conflict: The Republicans all but abandoned pledge of spending restraint and the congressional imperative that lawmakers must bring home the pork.
Congress should have passed a new, six-year highway bill when the old one expired in September 2003, but didn't. In the meantime, the old bill has been extended six times, with the most recent extension set to expire May 31, while wrangling over a new one continued.
President Bush originally proposed spending $256 billion on highways, bridges and mass transit and threatened to veto any bill over that amount. The Republican-controlled Senate responded by proposing $318 billion and the Republican-controlled House even more.
The House then settled on $284 billion over six years and it looked like the Senate would go along. The White House waffled on its veto threat, and it looked like a compromise was in the offing.
But then this week senior Senate Republicans added another $11 billion - most of it, $8.8 billion, for highways - plus a guarantee that states would get back at least 91 cents of every dollar in gas tax they sent to Washington.
That made governors and rank-and-file lawmakers happy but not Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who dismissed the funding mechanism for the extra spending as "accounting gimmicks" and repeated the president's veto threat.
With summer approaching, there is some urgency to passing the bill. Senate Public Works committee chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., says it is "a matter of life and death."
It's also a matter of saving face. The White House doesn't want to be seen as backing down and the lawmakers want to be seen as fighting to get as much as possible for their constituencies. One solution might be those "accounting gimmicks." Another might be to blame the Democrats.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com