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The Senate today defeated an effort by Sen. John McCain to include language in spending legislation that would prohibit funding for low-priority transportation projects such as historic renovation and beautification.
"What I am trying to say here is let the states decide their priorities," the Arizona Republican said during debate.
The amendment was defeated when the chamber voted to table it, 59-39. McCain sought to attach it to a package of three spending bills the Senate is considering. The minibus includes the Commerce, Justice and science; Agriculture, rural development, and Food and Drug Administration; and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development spending bills.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing to finish the minibus this week while balancing the GOP's desire for votes on its Members' amendments. The vote on the McCain amendment would be the third so far. Another nine amendments could also get votes before the end of the week.
McCain argued that the requirement has led to a series of questionable projects including white squirrel sanctuaries, a national Corvette museum simulator theater and bicycle museums.
"One of my favorites is a road side museum featuring a giant coffee pot," McCain said.
McCain said it is galling that highway funding is used for such projects when roads and bridges remain underfunded.
"Its also a fact that more people travel over deficient bridges every day ... than go to McDonald's," McCain said. "We have to set priorities, and I would like the states to set those priorities rather than have it be mandated."
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who opposed the amendment, said the measure would go too far.
"The proper place for updating this law would be in the [six-year surface transportation authorization bill], so I oppose the amendment on those grounds alone," said Murray, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. "However, the amendment goes much further than that."
Murray said the proposal would prohibit any landscaping and preservation activities by HUD and the Transportation Department, including the use of Community Block Development Grant funds for historic preservation, basic landscaping and streetscaping activities.
She said the amendment also would "cripple Amtrak," which has to maintain 126 stations in 41 states "that are on the national register of historic places."
Under the amendment, "Amtrak could not make any improvements to stations to comply with access requirements for persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act."