Late on Thursday, Senate Transportation and Infrastructure
Subcommittee Chairman Kit Bond (R-MO) agreed to allow the
Senate to approve the third extension of TEA 21 for another
Chairman Bond had held up Senate consideration of the measure
earlier Thursday to protest Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschles
(D-SD) refusal to allow a conference committee to be formed
on the six-year highway reauthorization bill. Sen. Daschle
has conditioned his willingness to allow a conference committee
to be formed on holding a bipartisan pre-conference
meeting with Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN).
The minority leader wants to receive assurances in the pre-conference
meeting that Senate Republicans will back the Senate-passed
$318 billion funding level and guarantee full Democratic participation
in the conference committee.
In the end, Senator Bond was able to express his displeasure
at Sen. Daschles demand for a pre-conference but was
forced to back down and allow the extension bill to proceed.
Failing to do so would have forced a shutdown of the Federal
Highway Administration and would have halted federal-aid road
construction projects nationwide.
The new TEA 21 extension expires on June 30, 2004. Many Washington-insiders
speculate that Congress must complete work by then or Presidential
election politics will force the term of any further extension
beyond the November elections.