Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Senate Votes Against $2.6 Billion for Bridge Repair

The US Senate has patted itself on the back for approving an additional $1 billion for the repair of structurally deficient bridges:

The Senate approved $1 billion on Monday to speed repair and replacement of America's crumbling network of bridges, six weeks after the Interstate 35W span collapsed in Minneapolis.

The Senate approved the funds on a 60-33 vote as the Senate began debate on a $104.6 billion measure funding transportation and housing programs for the budget year beginning Oct. 1...

If approved, the Democratic plan would boost federal funding next year for bridge repair and replacement by 20 percent, but would barely make a dent in the $65 billion nationwide backlog of bridge repairs identified by the Department of Transportation.
The Senate hasn't yet decided how to pay for the additional billion in spending; right now it's merely a decision to spend additional money. Eventually Congress might vote to increase the gas tax, as many Democrats advocate.

But while there's lots of attention to the additional billion for bridge repair, the very next vote in the Senate was to deny about $2.6 billion more for that effort. That vote will get a lot less attention, since the proposal by Senator Coburn would have canceled all funds for earmarks in the bill (which total an estimated $2.6 billion), and dedicated it to repair of structurally deficient bridges. The Senate voted to table that amendment, rather than debate it, by a bipartisan vote of 82-14.

Senator Coburn intends to offer several other amendments along these lines. None of them is likely to pass.

The next time you hear a Senator complain about insufficient funding for repair of bridges, ask how he or she voted on Coburn's amendment. While Republicans voted to kill it by a margin of 35-12, Democrats voted to keep the pork-barrel spending by an even more dramatic 47-2.

Neither party covered itself in glory on this one.

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