But the gas-tax proposal has run into fierce resistance from the Bush administration, as well as from many congressional Republicans and some Democrats.
The idea of a gas tax increase also has failed to catch on with Minnesota's U.S. senators. Norm Coleman, a Republican, has echoed Bush's call for a federal review of how the states and Congress use existing road and bridge dollars. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, has signed on to a $50 billion borrowing plan using federal bonds. She also favors paying for new transportation initiatives by repealing income tax cuts for wealthy Americans.
It's 'a beginning'
With no consensus on how to pay for a massive new federal bridge program, the Senate's 88-7 vote on Wednesday forges ahead with a more modest billion-dollar bridge initiative, which represents a 25 percent increase in bridge funding over the next year.
"I look at it as a beginning," Klobuchar said. "Rather than wait for the whole hearing process to work its way through, we did something right away."
For Coleman, voting for the extra bridge money meant breaking with his party. One Republican, Christopher Bond of Missouri, warned that lawmakers "should not overreact to the Minnesota bridge collapse."
Said LeRoy Coleman, a spokesman for Sen. Coleman: "Senator Coleman has long-standing concerns over the state of our national bridge infrastructure, and it is his hope that the funding provided in this appropriations bill will begin to address these needs."
Divisions over bridge funding presage a larger budget battle in the coming weeks, as the Senate finishes work on 12 annual appropriation bills, many of which face Bush veto threats over funding levels.
Davis and other analysts say one reason transportation was among the first spending bills the Senate passed this month is because it historically has been one of the most bipartisan.
Now, after the fall of the I-35W bridge, the massive infusion of cash needed for a national bridge program has been elevated to a major budget battleground.
But even as Bush and some Senate Republicans opposed the additional bridge spending, White House officials say they remain committed to funding the replacement of the I-35W bridge. "The president recognizes how important the I-35 bridge is to the state of Minnesota," said White House spokesman Alex Conant.
Staff writer Pat Doyle contributed to this report. Kevin Diaz 202.408.2753
Proposals to help I-35W commuters meet stiff resistance from residents and businesses north of the bridge. B7
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