WASHINGTON - A House committee on Wednesday cleared the road for action on a six-year, $284 billion highway and mass transit bill, a major jobs and infrastructure initiative that stalled last year over a money dispute between the White House and Congress.
This year, with the White House on board and the threat of a presidential veto removed, chances for passage are improved, although some in the Senate are still pressing for more money and there's still an issue over how to most fairly distribute the funds among the states.
The House Transportation Committee voted by voice to renew and significantly expand the highway spending program that has been running on temporary extensions since the last six-year plan, funded at $218 billion, expired in September, 2003.
The full House is expected to vote next week on what a senior Democrat on the committee, Peter DeFazio of Oregon, called "perhaps the most important piece of legislation in this Congress."
The legislation also contains 3,315 projects requested by House members for their districts and criticized by government watchdog groups as pork barrel spending. They range from $15 million for an access road in Juneau, Alaska, the home state of committee chairman Don Young, to $200,000 for a bicycle trail in Eagleville, Tenn.
Young said it was essential that Congress pass a bill before the latest extension expires on May 31. "The American people deserve solutions to the problems of congestion, crumbling roads and delayed shipments of freight," he said.