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6/24/2005
SPECIAL REPORT: Congress inches toward final version of Highway Bill

The House and the Senate reached an important compromise Thursday, June 23, on the funding levels set forth in the Highway Bill.

Negotiators agreed to set the level at $286.5 billion through 2009. That marks a drop from the $295 billion initially called for in the Senate's version of the bill, and is still higher than the $284 billion limit favored by the House and President Bush.

Earlier this week, the Senate proposed a compromise calling for $290 billion in spending in six years.

Rod Nofziger, government relations representative for OOIDA, said that the new number is much closer to Bush's vision and will most likely be the final number.

Bush previously threatened to veto any bill with a spending limit beyond $284 billion, but Nofziger said the feeling on Capitol Hill is that no one is worried about that threat.

"If the administration were to come forth with a veto, there's still enough will behind the bill (in Congress) to override that veto," he said.

However, some hurdles for the bill still remain. Not the least of which is to determine how much money states will receive from the federal Highway Trust Fund through the federal gas tax that will become part of the formula that determines how much each state gets back from Washington.

Another unresolved issue that directly concerns the trucking industry is that of the fuel surcharge, which is still attached to the bill via the House version of the legislation.

Nofziger said it is still not too late for OOIDA members to contact their representatives on the conference committee in support of the fuel surcharge legislation.

If these questions are squared away by June 27, than the bill could be finished by the June 30 deadline of the latest extension. If not, he said, negotiations could very well push into July.

If that happened, it would be the eighth short-term extension of the 1998 Highway Bill since it expired in 2003.

- By Terry Scruton, senior writer
terry_scruton@landlinemag.com

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