WASHINGTON -- Huse Republicans abandoned Ronald Reagan Tuesday and joined Democrats in voting to override his veto of an $88 billion highway bill, fearing the president's action would cripple summer construction and jeopardize thousands of jobs.
The vote was 350-73 with 102 out of 177 Republicans in the chamber voting against Reagan, including GOP leader Bob Michel of Illinois. Only one Democrat, Rep. Norman Sisiski, D-Va., broke ranks and supported Reagan's veto of the highway bill.
Reagan regarded the vote to override his veto as a test of his emergence from the Iran-Contra scandal, but some congressional leaders accused him of simply picking a fight with Congress.
Two-thirds of the lawmakers voting in each chamber must agree to override a veto for legislation to become law over the president's objections.
The real battle will be in the Senate, where Democratic leader Robert Byrd reminded lawmakers, 'Government by veto is not leadership. It's confrontation.'
'What we have here ... is the White House attempting to show the president is back, rehabilitated by voting a very important bill. How many jobs do we have to lose before the president is rehabilitated?' Byrd asked.
White House chief of staff Howard Baker said during a visit to Congress he is 'guardedly optimistic' the Senate will side with Reagan, but he admitted that 'we do not yet have the votes.'
Senate Republican leader Robert Dole estimated there were three to four undecided Republican votes and said the override vote would be postponed until later this week because two senators were absent Tuesday.
'That's how close it is,' he said of the override vote.
The five-year highway spending bill, bogged down since October when the old highway program expired, would allow states to raise the 55 mph speed limit to 65 mph on rural stretches of interstates -- about 70 percent of the nation's 42,500-mile interstate highway system.
Reagan favored the speed limit provision but opposed financing for 152 local road and bridge projects in the bill and said its $18 billion for mass transit projects was 50 percent too much.
House Speaker Jim Wright said the vote to override was 'a very gratifying victory' and praised Republicans who abandoned the president for standing up to 'the blandishments and pressure from the White House' to support Reagan's position.
Wright said he hoped the overwhelming House vote to override will encourage the 83 senators who vote for the highway bill earlier this month to stick with their convictions rather than to 'cave in to White House pressure.'