Senate Republicans used the cloture rule (60 votes needed to close debate and vote on a bill or amendment) to kill the Feinstein transit amendment:
Already unhappy over the size of the measure, Republicans insisted additional infrastructure projects be paid for with cuts elsewhere in the bill.
But the Democratic amendment garnered 58 votes, just shy of the supermajority needed under Senate budget rules, and many more efforts to increase the measure's size are sure to follow.
"We can't add to the size of this bill," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. "The amount is just inconceivable to most people."
This should come as no surprise to anyone. Congressional Republicans have made clear their absolute refusal to consider changing our national transportation priorities away from the failed highway-dependent sprawl model that dominated the 20th century but whose failure lies at the heart of the economic crisis. To wit:
"We need to fix housing first," he said. Republicans are expected to seek a vote on their proposals this week as part of the debate on the overall stimulus measure.
Officials said the GOP was uniting behind a proposal designed to give banks an incentive to make loans at rates currently estimated at 4 percent to 4.5 percent. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which were seized by the federal government in September, would be required to purchase the mortgages once banks have made them to consumers.
To put this more succinctly, they're saying "let's refloat the housing bubble!" Banks have made it quite clear that they are in no mood to lend money to many people in this climate, and Americans have made it quite clear they are in no mood to acquire more household debt. Sure, there may be a few folks here and there who want to buy, but by no means are they numerous enough to provide an economic boost.
And even if they could - would it matter? The economic crash was the product of overreliance on housing to drive the economy. That failed - why on earth would we want to try it again? Sustainable mass transit provides near-term jobs and long-term economic value by offering affordable transportation options not dependent on the vagaries of oil prices.
Unfortunately the US Senate clings to arcane and deeply undemocratic rules that hand the minority the power to obstruct the majority. Rafael put it well in the comments to the last post:
Behold the glorious dictatorship of the minority. Let's see them actually reading phone books for a week in a vainglorious effort to oppose funding for the nation's crumbling infrastructure. It's time to call these clowns' bluff - they double the deficit in eight years and now they're choir boys on fiscal rectitude all of a sudden? Puhleeze.
Alternatively, give them the compensatory funding they are asking for. I'd start with imposing a retroactive 100% income tax on bonuses paid to employees of financial institutions that received TARP funds. That's $18 billion right there. Next, take the $5.5 billion currently "at the discretion of Ray LaHood" and allocate the whole $23.5 billion explicitly to water and mass transit, with 10% ($2.35 billion) added to the $2 billion already reserved for high speed rail in the Senate version of the bill.
The Obama Administration and Senate Democrats are showing a lack of seriousness about the economic crisis, the need for new transportation methods, and their own political futures by not moving more aggressively to roll back the filibuster. It's a simple threat - tell Republicans they can either stop blocking the stimulus or the Democratic majority will take way the filibuster (it only requires 51 votes to do that, ironically enough).
This all matters because we are VERY likely to see the same situation play itself out later this year when HSR funding comes back to the Senate. The sooner we win these battles the more likely it is that we will get our federal contribution.