A six-year, $145 billion highway bill became a victim Tuesday of a concerted Democratic push for new campaign finance laws when Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott declared it dead for this year.
“In view of the other things we must do … we’re just out of time for the year” for it, Lott, R-Miss., told reporters Tuesday after losing the fourth attempt in two weeks to stop a Democratic filibuster of the bill.
Democrats blocked the highway bill to pressure Republicans to agree to setting a date for full debate and action on revising campaign finance laws. All of the Senate’s 45 Democrats support a campaign finance bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis.
Exempted from the Democratic filibuster are bills covering government spending in fiscal 1998, which began Oct. 1.
Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., said Democrats would readily support a six-month extension of the highway bill and exempt it from their filibuster in order to keep state road-building programs functioning smoothly.
But Lott said he will not bring up such a six-month extension already passed by the House, predicting the Senate would have trouble completing it, too.
While states as of September had a cushion of $12.6 billion in unobligated federal highway funds, the lack of a blueprint for long-term federal funding could throw states’ planning out of whack.
Senators of both parties lamented the lack of action.
“It’s being held up by senators who want to impose a political agenda on vital transportation spending,” said Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn. “It is inconceivable to me that we would not consider this bill on its own merits. And the question of ‘Why not?’ is being asked by every state concerned about the availability of transportation funds for … projects.”
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., called the Senate “derelict” on the matter, saying, “This is not some abstract theory. This is jobs.”