- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Senate voted down an amendment Tuesday that would have added $25 billion to the stimulus for more transportation project, a popular economic remedy that fell to Republican concerns over the $885 billion bill’s ballooning price tag.

The amendment, which was offered by top Democrats, died in a near party-line vote, falling two votes short of the 60 needed to include the funds as emergency spending in President Obama’s economic rescue.

Corrected paragraph: Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, said the measure got nixed because the extra spending was not offset by cuts elsewhere in the bill.

“The lack of an offset gave some people a reason and others an excuse [to vote against it],” said Mr. Nelson, who voted for the amendment but also is part of a bipartisan effort to cut tens of billions of dollars from the bill.

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The added $25 billion for highway and mass transit, sponsored by Democrat Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Dianne Feinstein of California, answered criticism that the bill did not deliver on Mr. Obama’s promise of New Deal-style public works to quickly create jobs.

The money would have upped highway spending from $27 billion to $40 billion and transit spending from $8.4 billion to $13.4 billion.

Democrats appeared stunned on the Senate floor as it became increasingly clear the infrastructure amendment would come up just short of the 60 votes needed to waive budget rules and include the package in the massive economic recovery bill.

Mrs. Murray and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, and stood grim-faced in the well of the chamber as the last of the votes were counted, surrounded by nearly a dozen of their Democratic colleagues studying the vote tally.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a centrist Louisiana Democrat, appeared to agonize over her vote, delaying until the last minute before opposing the new spending. Even with her vote, the measure would have fallen one vote short.

The extra transportation spending would have been welcome by House Democrats, who passed a $819 billion version of the stimulus plan last week. That bill didn’t receive a single Republican vote, in part due to the spending level.

“I think a majority in the House believes there ought to be greater infrastructure spending” in the bill, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said before the Senate vote.

But he said congressional Democrats and President Obama were trying to keep the overall price tag of the bill below $900 billion. Some private estimates also showed that much of the additional infrastructure money could not be spent in the first 18 months after the bill passes, providing little early stimulus to the economy.

The Senate is scheduled to work through a stack of amendments before a final bill emerges for a vote later this week. The Senate and House version will then have to reconciled.

Democratic leaders want the stimulus on the president’s desk by Feb. 13, when Congress takes a week-long recess.

This article has been corrected from an earlier version, which incorrectly identified Sen. Ben Nelson as a Democrat from Florida

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