“We shouldn’t be building welcome centers while there is one bridge in any state that could be of danger to the people going across it,” said Coburn. “We cannot have that as a priority now.”
Supporters of the amendment argued that currently 24 percent of all bridges are deficient — that means about 69,000 must carry diminished loads and 77,000 are functionally obsolete.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was the main Democrat in opposition to the amendment. She claimed that if McCain’s amendment was passed, historic structures like the Brooklyn Bridge would not be repaired, an allegation which McCain denied.
“This amendment affects each and every one of you and your constituents," said Boxer.
Democrats were aided in defeating the amendment by several Republicans, led by arch-conservative Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), who said that while he agreed with the principle of the amendment it did not go far enough in preventing the misallocation of funds.
“This amendment doesn’t eliminate the mandate," said Inhofe. "It still makes them spend the money on bike-related activities."
Throughout the debate McCain listed projects including tunnels for squirrels and turtles, a giant teapot, a Corvette museum and a collection of antique bicycles that would all receive funding instead of crumbling bridges if his amendment was not passed.
The proposal would amend the so-called “minibus” appropriations bill that the Senate is hoping to approve this week.