Senate supporters of a $318-billion transportation funding bill scored a procedural victory, cutting off what had been a lengthy debate on the measure and pushing the legislation closer to a final vote.
The Feb. 12 morning vote to invoke "cloture" on the six-year successor to the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century was an overwhelming 86-11. That limits further debate on the bill to 30 hours, says Will Hart, a spokesman for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
By the evening of Feb. 11, some 290 amendments to the bill had been filed for possible Senate votes, says Hart. Votes on some of those amendments were likely, but others may "fall by the wayside," he adds. Hart also says that Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla) still intends to get a final vote on the legislation either late on Feb. 12 or on Feb. 13.
The House has approved a four-month extension of the surface transportation programs, whose authorization is slated to expire on Feb. 29. Congress is to be in recess the week of Feb. 16.
If the Senate approves its $318-billion measure, it could go to conference after the recess with the House's four-month extension, says EPW spokesman Hart. Another option would be to "hope the momentum that we get from passage in the Senate would help [the House] move to something other than a four-month extension."
Overhanging the action in both Houses is pressure from the Bush administration to cut the legislation's price tag. The administration has proposed a $256-billion plan, and on Feb. 11 issued a formal "Statement of Administration Policy" saying officials would recommend a presidential veto of the Senate's version, in part because its "spending levels are too high."
The administration has not publicly said whether it will insist on a $256-billion total. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said President Bush has told him that a $290-billion level would be too high.