updated 5/17/2005 4:03:00 PM ET 2005-05-17T20:03:00

The Republican-controlled Senate brushed aside a presidential veto threat Tuesday and passed a $295 billion highway bill, arguing that massive spending on bigger and better roads was necessary to fight congestion and unsafe roadways.

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The administration, while pressing Congress to pass a new highway bill, said the Senate version was too expensive in a time of war and debt and could result in the first veto of the Bush presidency.

The vote was 89-11 with a majority of Republicans joining Democrats in approving the six-year package that the administration said was $11 billion above what it would accept.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, described himself as one of the most conservative members of Congress but said he was at odds with the administration because “there are two areas where we need to spend money. One is national defense and the other is infrastructure.”

In addition to granting money to states to repair and build roads and bridges, the bill provides more than $50 billion for public transit, funds recreational road programs and promotes highway safety.

“This bill will have an impact on every city and every town and every state.” said Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., the minority leader on the Environment Committee. “I urge President Bush to reconsider his veto threat against this legislation.”

The Senate vote was in some ways a repeat of last year, when the senators approved a bill well above what the White House deemed affordable. In the end no compromise was reached with Congress, and lawmakers have had to pass six temporary extensions of the old six-year act, which expired on Sept. 30, 2003.

The House in March passed a $284 billion bill, the maximum amount the White House says it will accept without a veto. The Senate, in adding $11 billion, said it had come up with new revenues for the highway trust fund — the principal source of money for federal highway grants to the states — without adding to the deficit.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan repeated the veto threat Tuesday, saying the president was “very serious” about following a fiscally responsible budget.

Before the final vote, the Senate rejected, by 84-16, a proposed amendment by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that would have shrunk the bill back to $284 billion.

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