WASHINGTON -- President Clinton is congratulating Congress for sending him legislation that would set a national standard for drunken driving.
The provision was tucked into a compromise $58 billion transportation spending bill for the new fiscal year that sailed through Congress on Friday. The bill, approved 344-50 by the House and 78-10 by the Senate, also is loaded with pre-election highway, mass transit and aviation projects for every state.
Beginning in 2004, the legislation would gradually withhold up to 8 percent of federal highway funds from states that failed to drop their drunken driving standard to 0.08 percent blood alcohol content. Clinton, who is expected to sign the legislation, has said the lower limit would save 500 lives of the 15,000 highway deaths each year linked to alcohol.
"This groundbreaking measure, which I have long advocated, will save hundreds of lives a year and represents a major victory for public safety and American families all across the country," he said.
The transportation bill is the fifth spending bill to clear Congress of the 13 required for the 2001 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Clinton on Friday signed a bill keeping federal agencies open through Oct. 14 so budget negotiators can keep working without fear of a government shutdown.
Opponents of the 0.08 standard, including the restaurant and alcohol industries, say the measure would penalize social drinkers while ignoring the bigger problem of repeat offenders who drink heavily.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia already have 0.08 laws, and in Massachusetts a level of 0.08 is considered evidence but not proof of impairment. Thirty-one states define drunken driving as 0.10 percent blood alcohol content.
The transportation bill's overwhelming passage was fueled by its scores of road, mass transit and aviation projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars for districts from coast to coast.
To accommodate that, the measure was $7.3 billion higher than last year's level, $3.3 billion more than Clinton requested and nearly $3 billion larger than earlier versions passed by the House and Senate.
That made room for $1.97 billion for specific highway projects that neither the Senate or House had approved earlier, including $600 million for a federally owned Potomac River bridge outside Washington, D.C.
There were also separate $100 million projects for West Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi -- home states, respectively, of Sen. Robert Byrd, top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee; GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, chairman of the Appropriations transportation subcommittee; and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
Even House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who rails daily against Clinton's spending demands, couldn't resist, winning $6 million for road and airport improvements in his Houston-area district.
The transportation bill also included $348 million for the Internal Revenue Service, counterterrorism and other programs aimed at satisfying Clinton's demands for a separate $33 billion measure financing the Treasury Department and Congress' own operations.
That bill, which already cleared the House, should now pass the Senate and get Clinton's signature, Democrats said.
That measure also would repeal the 3 percent federal excise tax on telephone use and would clear the way for lawmakers to receive a $3,800 pay raise in January to $145,100.
Clinton still is expected to veto the $23.6 billion energy and water bill that passed Congress this week. He objects to a provision blocking plans to let the Missouri River ebb and flow with the seasons, which has set environmentalists and upriver recreation interests against downstream farmers and barge shippers.
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