Washington Congress shipped President Clinton a compromise $58 billion transportation package Friday that would set a national drunken-driving standard and lavish pre-election highway projects on every state.
The transportation bill, for the new 2001 fiscal year, sailed through the House by 344-50 and the Senate by 78-10. Clinton is expected to sign the measure, the fifth of the 13 annual spending bills for the new year to have cleared Congress.
Beginning in 2004, the legislation would gradually withhold up to 8 percent of federal highway funds from states that fail to drop their drunken-driving standard to 0.08 percent blood alcohol content. Clinton, calling it "a major victory for public safety and American families," has said the lower limit would save 500 lives annually, out of the 15,000 highway deaths each year linked to alcohol.
"The Senate should be very proud of its efforts today to spare 500 families from that horrifying phone call that often comes in the dark of night," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., one of the measure's chief authors.
Opponents, 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, including Kansas, 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 measure'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.