Card Angers Hastert

Posted March 23, 2004 at 6:30pm

A senior aide to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) identified White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card as the source of faulty numbers that prompted the lawmaker to deal exclusively with President Bush on the highway bill.

The aide indicated that the Speaker’s decision did not reflect a loss of faith so much as a concern about the final product.

“The Speaker thinks this bill is so important that we need to be very clear on what the president will sign or won’t sign,” said the Hastert aide, who requested anonymity. “A mistake that would lead to a veto would be a real problem.”

Card did not respond to a request for comment.

The Speaker first signaled his frustration with the White House two weeks ago, when he told reporters that the administration had given conflicting indications about the level of funding that President Bush would accept.

Hastert said he should not have to use “two or three channels” to get a firm answer.

Card, a Transportation secretary in the first Bush administration, has served as a key hub on transportation policy during the current Bush administration.

Hastert said a week ago that White House officials, whom he did not identify, had indicated the president could probably tolerate as much as $300 billion in spending on the highway legislation. But that figure was subsequently adjusted downward to $256 billion in the president’s fiscal 2005 budget submission.

The House version of the highway bill is scheduled to be marked up today at $275 billion.

Nevertheless, Republican sources downplayed the possibility of division on future issues, citing nearly seamless cooperation between the Bush administration and GOP Congressional leaders in other areas of policy.

The importance of transportation spending to Members and election-year pressures on Bush to hold down spending combined to bring greater urgency to the issue of funding levels, they suggested.

Last spring, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) began pushing a highway bill with a price tag of $375 billion over six years.

Young and Transportation ranking member James Oberstar (D-Minn.) suggested finding extra money for the measure by increasing gasoline taxes.

That proposal encountered immediate resistance from the White House and Republican leaders, who are opposed both to tax increases and to any actions that would increase already high gas prices.

The White House issued a broad veto threat against any highway bill that increased gas taxes, but it has not explicitly stated whether Bush would veto a bill that came in over a particular number.

The Senate has already passed a $318 billion measure, while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has expressed his preference for a final price tag of approximately $290 billion.