Senate Votes to Protect Funding for Alaska Bridges; Opposes Diverting Funds to Repair Bridge in New Orleans
The U.S. Senate tonight defeated an amendment by Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) by a vote of 15 to 82 that would have blocked funding for two extravagant projects in Alaska and directed $125 million from those projects to the repair of the Twin Spans Bridge over Lake Pontachartrain which was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The Coburn amendment was offered to H.R. 3058, the Transportation, Treasury, HUD, Judiciary and District of Columbia Appropriations Act.
"The American people expect their elected officials to make sacrifices in a time of war, rising deficits, and disaster recovery. Unfortunately, many members of Congress are more committed to protecting a system that allows them to fund extravagant projects at the expense of the common good. Our refusal to prioritize spending and exercise restraint has created a rumble among the American people. Tonight's vote will only cause that rumble to grow," Dr. Coburn said.
The Coburn amendment would have blocked funding for a $223 million bridge to a town in Alaska with a population of 50 people. At $4.46 million per person, the cost of the bridge alone would be enough to buy every island resident their own personal Lear jet. The Coburn amendment also would have blocked funding for a $229 million bridge that would connect Anchorage, Alaska to hundreds of square miles of unpopulated wetlands.
The Coburn amendment would have then diverted $125 million in savings from those projects to repair the Interstate 10 Twin Spans Bridge in Louisiana, a 5.4 mile stretch of I-10 over Lake Pontchartrain which connects New Orleans with the city of Slidell. The Twin Spans serve as a major route into New Orleans for interstate commerce and working commuters.
Dr. Coburn offered another amendment to block funding for three special projects; $200,000 for an animal facility in Westerly, Rhode Island; $500,000 for a sculpture park in Seattle; and $950,000 for a parking facility for a private museum in Omaha, Nebraska. The Senate voted to table, or kill, the amendment by a vote of 13 to 86.
The Senate did accept three Coburn amendments. One amendment required that all earmarks be included in the bill's conference report. This amendment helps lift the veil of secrecy that conceals the process of inserting special projects into appropriations bills. Similar amendments have been attached to the Agriculture, Military Construction and Department of Defense Appropriations bills.
Another amendment limits the amount HUD can spend on conferences to $3 million. Last year the Department spent $13.9 million on conferences.
The other Coburn amendment that was accepted requires the Community Development Block Grant Program run by HUD to cease violating a law that requires them report on their rate of improper payments.