Senate leaders voted 91-3 to pass the Transportation and Treasury appropriations bill on Thursday, clearing the way for a House-Senate conference committee on the measure this week. The possibility does exist that the bill could be included in an omnibus spending bill if a conference is not completed.
With only days remaining before the expiration of the first temporary spending bill on Oct. 31, House and Senate leaders took steps for a second short-term extension and a longer omnibus spending bill that would wrap up appropriations for those agencies still without enacted legislation.
On Tuesday the House approved a second short-term bill to continue funding until Nov. 7, the date leaders hope to see Congress adjourn for the year. It was expected that the Senate would attach its six remaining appropriations bills to that continuing resolution, with debate on the omnibus measure starting next week.
However, Senate appropriators were reluctant to go to conference on an omnibus bill which contained a funding measure on which the full Senate had not had debate. As a result, Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Ark.) and Ranking Committee Member Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) agreed to bring the unfinished bills to the floor for action, with the least controversial scheduled first.
The Senate bill would propose to set the FY 2004 highway obligation limit at $33.8 billion, an increase of $2.2 billion over the current year. Added to that would be another $931 million for the programs which are exempt from the obligation limitation, bringing the total highway program in the Senate bill to $34.7 billion.