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3/1/2004
SPECIAL REPORT: Bush signs two-month highway bill extension - Mineta urges action

President Bush signed legislation Feb. 29 to extend the federal highway program two months, thereby averting what Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta called a “menacing deadline” that could have resulted in the furlough of nearly 5,000 DOT workers.

Sens. John McCain, R-AZ, and Joe Lieberman, D-CT, Feb. 27 said they’d use the highway bill to bring about a two-month extension for an independent investigation of the September 11 terror attacks.

However, Congress approved a two-month extension for both the highway bill and the September 11 investigation.

"Congress acted to avoided a shutdown, now we must turn our attention toward passing a fiscally responsible six-year surface transportation bill," said Mineta, speaking March 1 to a meeting of the National Association of Counties. "No more extensions, no more delays - our communities can't afford to put vital (transportation projects) on hold."

On Feb. 12, the Senate approved a new six-year $318 billion highway bill. However, the White House has threatened to veto the bill because it goes above the president's $256 billion proposal. Bush is opposed to any bill that uses tax increases or deficit spending to finance projects. However, the Senate bill may have enough support to override a veto, The Associated Press reported.

The House has yet to pass a six-year highway bill – the word is that legislators are working on a two-year bill. The House Transportation Committee previously backed a $375 billion package for six years, saying anything less would do little more than maintain the current level of the nation's deteriorating infrastructure. But the committee’s suggestion to raise the federal motor fuel tax to pay for the increase has been rebuffed by the White House.

By Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dick_larsen@landlinemag.com.

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