UPDATE (10 Feb 2009): The Senate passed its $838 billion version of the stimulus plan. Three Republicans joined the Democrats for the 61-37 vote. More details forthcoming about the conference committee.
Last week in the Senate stimulus saw California’s Barbara Boxer — who, ironically, happens to chair the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and is working on climate change legislation — join forces with climate change skeptics in both proposing and endorsing stimulus bill amendments that would have funded more highway construction, thereby increasing national vehicle miles traveled. Her Inhofe-Boxer amendment proposed adding $50 billion of funds for exclusive highway use, and she also expressed support for amendments of Kit Bond (R-Missouri), which would have yanked $2 billion of high-speed rail money and $5.5 billion of competitive grants, redirecting both to highways. Was it all in the name of holding onto her seat in the Senate? Perhaps. Boxer experienced pressure from transit and environmental advocates to diversify the content of her $50 billion amendment so that the funds could also be applied to water and transit projects. There was plenty of back-and-forth on the Senate amendments, but the Senate appears to have finally settled into the Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) compromise. Thankfully, that compromise does not gut the transit funding. It is a proposal, but one that seems to have accumulated support. Thanks to those of you contacted your senators, urging them to leave the transit funds intact.
So now where do we stand — and what will the final stimulus bill look like, assuming the Senate compromise passes? The funding priorities of the House and Senate versions exhibit marked differences. As we noted earlier, the Senate version includes $5.5 billion of competitive grants awarded at USDOT discretion, and $2 billion for designated high-speed rail corridors, but not as much as a penny for fixed guideway modernization or New Starts. The House version, by contrast, does not include competitive grants or high-speed rail funds; but it does allocate $2.5 billion to New Starts and $2 billion to fixed guideways. So the differences between the House and the Senate are differences in kind, not degree. We look forward to seeing how these differences are reconciled.