A small group of transportation interests were invited to
the White House to discuss moving forward on the TEA-21 reauthorization
legislation. At the meeting, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, joined by
Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta and Federal Highway Administrator Mary
Peters, said it is time to finalize the legislation and that the administration
continues to support $284 billion as the appropriate funding level.
Card also made the point that the Office of Management and
Budget does not believe that the Highway Trust Fund can support $284 billion in
spending and does not support funding above this level. In addition, he said
the administration does not support the revenue enhancers contained in the
Senate bill that would allow for the increased investment. They urged the
groups to support $284 billion and to work to get the bill completed. They fear
any further delay will undermine the desire to keep the program operating on
long-term authorizations rather than year-to-year appropriations.
Steve Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of
America, responded to the group’s plea by requesting that the administration
allow the House and Senate conferees to complete their action on the bill and
to not prejudge the outcome. Sandherr also pointed out that AGC has supported
the Senate funding level as necessary to address growing transportation needs
and that AGC would have no credibility asking for a lower number after
supporting the highest possible funding for the last three years.
The meeting concluded with Card saying that President Bush
was adamant that the funding level go no higher than $284 billion and that he
is prepared to veto the measure if it goes any higher.
Meanwhile, the principle House and Senate conferees met
informally on Tuesday to discuss the funding level. House Ways and Means
Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) is rumored to have offered to the
Senate negotiators to increase the House funding level by $2.6 billion. The
Senators rejected that amount and the negotiations quickly ended.
Despite the lack of a bill, the House Transportations
Appropriations subcommittee took action today to approve funding for FY 2006.
The subcommittee approved a highway obligation limit of $36.287 billion, the
amount called for in H.R. 3. This is an increase of $1.6 billion over the
President’s budget request and $1.9 billion over the FY 2005 enacted level.