The president pro tem of the Senate got his $230 million bridge, but only after he threatened to quit if he didn’t.
Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the chamber’s senior Republican, became furious when Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, offered an amendment yesterday that would have forbidden building the bridge and sent some of the money to rebuild the Interstate 10 bridge across Lake Pontchartrain, which was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
“If the Senate decides to discriminate against our state, to take money only from our state, I will resign from this body,” Mr. Stevens said. “If one senator can decide he’ll take all the money from one state to solve a problem of another, that is not a union. That is not equality.”
He was defending a bridge from Ketchikan, Alaska, with a population slightly less than 15,000, to Gravina Island, with a population counted in the dozens.
Critics have dubbed it the “bridge to nowhere,” but Alaska’s congressional delegation said the bridge is the only way for the region to see economic growth because it would connect the only parts of the area that are still in private hands and can be developed.
Mr. Coburn wanted to shift $125 million from the bridge to the Lake Pontchartrain spans, and then send the rest of the money back to Alaska for other projects, as long as they don’t go to pay for the bridge.
His amendment failed on an 82-15 vote, with 11 Republicans and four Democrats voting in favor.
Mr. Coburn, who has assumed the mantle of chief taxpayer watchdog in the Senate, said the bridge doesn’t make sense.
“So you can get perspective on this, $230 million for 50 people, where there’s a ferry service already running every 15-30 minutes that takes seven minutes to cross, is enough money to buy each one of them a Learjet,” he said. “A bridge longer than the Golden Gate for 50 people to a small area in Alaska is enough money to buy every one of the inhabitants their own — hundreds of speedboats, to cross any time they wanted.”
The Senate then rejected another amendment that would have prevented any bridge funded under the federal highway bill’s formula from being built until money is found to build the I-10 bridge. The vote on that amendment was 61-33.
Since Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Coburn has led a small group of Republicans who want to cut spending elsewhere to cover some of the federal government’s costs, but they have yet to win a Senate floor vote.
Mr. Coburn recently lost an effort to end a defense travel program that he said has an overhead cost of more than $1,000 per ticket, not including the cost of the trip itself. Earlier in the day yesterday, he lost on an 86-13 vote another effort to shift money from parking garages in four states to Louisiana.
The 11 Republicans who voted to shift the bridge money to Louisiana were Sens. Wayne Allard of Colorado, George Allen of Virginia, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, Mr. Coburn, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, John E. Sununu of New Hampshire and David Vitter of Louisiana. The four Democrats were Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.