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Senators Battle Over Highway Bill

February 5, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate Democrats accused Republicans of dragging their feet on a complex six-year highway and transit bill Thursday, saying further delay could disrupt construction and repair projects.

Republicans accused Democrats of trying to rush the bill in hopes of grabbing more cash for it before Congress finishes an outline of next year’s federal budget.

Working on the bill outside the context of the upcoming budget resolution could lead Congress to break last year’s balanced-budget agreement, said Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. Other programs could be squeezed for cash if Congress commits itself now, he said.

``I want more money for roads and bridges but not if it leads to an avalanche of spending in other accounts,″ he said.

Congress recessed last year without settling how to divide billions of dollars in annual transportation spending among the states. Lawmakers simply extended the old highway law until May 1.

In the meantime, problems are rapidly developing in states trying to plan their construction projects, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said.

``This ought to be a priority,″ Dorgan said. ``Moving goods to markets and to customers is vital to a healthy economy. Instead, this Congress is bogged down in internal disputes. Instead of action, there is procrastination, missed deadlines and promises not yet fulfilled.″

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., called the delay ``legislative malpractice,″ and compared Congress to ``a teen-ager who won’t work on a book report until the night before it’s due.″

Republicans blamed any delay on the Democrats themselves. Chances for passage died last year when Democrats tried to attach a plan to revamp the campaign finance system, they said.

``Senators who now come to the floor demanding action on this bill used the procedural rules of the Senate to block action just a few short week ago,″ said Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

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