Fiscally Conservative Republicans Take Aim At Highway Bill
By Ann Curley/CNN
WASHINGTON (March 27) -- Showing a large fissure in the House GOP, a group of fiscally conservative House Republicans have thrown off the gloves and come out swinging at the high cost of the massive highway bill that will be deliberated by the chamber next week.
These Republicans, led by Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio), held a news conference Friday to criticize the six-year $217 billion transportation bill, which exceeds spending caps set forth in the balanced budget agreement, in part to provide the special projects for individual House members.
The bill contains a 43 percent increase in transportation funding, compared to 1991-1997 levels, including a specific portion for so-called "demonstration projects", described by critics as "sweetheart projects" for individual members.
Transportation Committee Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Penn.), the bill's author who some legislators have accused of attempting to buy votes by granting projects in exchange for a yes vote on the pending legislation, defends the bill. He called it "important to America."
House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) also supports the legislation and predicts it will pass. But the big spending has set off a virtual civil war with the Republican party.
"Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered and frankly this bill really is a hog, it is way over the top. We believe there really is too much spending, we believe this bill is in fact an abomination," Kasich said at news conference.
Kasich called the bill "a significant detour" from where the Republican party has strived to go, in terms of achieving a balanced budget, explaining that the high spending levels will limit Republican goals of shrinking government, providing tax cuts, and cutting spending.
The bill includes more than 1,200 "demonstration projects," including $60 million for an airport parking facility in Denver, $3 million for a documentary extolling the virtues of highway spending and $7 million for an urban development project in Allentown, Penn. that includes a transportation museum and microbrewery.
Kasich expressed doubt that the bill can be paid for by offsetting other programs.
Moderate Chris Shays (R-Conn.) said, "The worst day I've spent in Congress in my eleven years was last week when I realized that John Kasich was going to be run over by a cement truck, and the Speaker had agreed to Mr. Shuster's request and that this Republican revolution that I believe so strongly in, is in question of being maintained."
Kasich said that he will offer an amendment to the highway bill that will have the effect of turning the program back to the states. He said his amendment will serve to eliminate the Federal Highway Administration over the next four years, requiring states to pay for road projects using their own state tax structure.
Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), saying "I was sent up here to bring some fiscal discipline to the U.S. Congress," said that he will offer an amendment that will take the over-1,400 demonstration projects out of the bill, reducing the spending increase from 43 percent to 33 percent. He is joined by Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.), Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), and Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) on the amendment.
The entire House is expected to consider the bill next Wednesday.