19 Republicans help Senate move $54B Transportation bill

The Senate voted to move forward with a $54 billion Transportation spending bill Tuesday in a 73-26 vote that split upper chamber Republicans.

Nineteen Republican senators voted in favor of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill, even though it would spend significantly more that a $44 billion House bill.

The Senate bill also exceeds President Obama’s requested funding level.

Republicans backing the bill included Sens. James InhofeJames InhofeMcCain wants hearings on lifting of military's transgender ban Senate Republicans push for Flint aid bill Menendez rails against Puerto Rico bill for 4 hours on floor MORE (Oka.), John McCainJohn McCainWhich GOP pols will actually attend the convention? Trump bucks military on waterboarding Overnight Defense: Pentagon lifts transgender ban | Navy says Iran broke law by detaining sailors MORE (Ariz.), Mark KirkMark KirkSenate panel approves 0M for international climate fund Senator calls for pause in accepting Syrian refugees after Istanbul attack Overnight Healthcare: Blame game over Zika funding MORE (Ill.) and Susan CollinsSusan CollinsThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief Senators press Obama education chief on reforms GOP senator: Trump endorsement could depend on VP MORE (Maine). Those opposed included Sens. Rand PaulRand PaulTrump campaign loses two more staffers Trump's new digital strategist quickly leaves campaign Trump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office MORE (Ky.), Ted CruzTed CruzTrump meets with Gov. Mike Pence amid VP speculation The Hill's 12:30 Report Trump hires Florida chief strategist, new pollster MORE (Texas), Mike LeeMike LeeThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief Trump to meet with Senate GOP next week First trans Senate candidate: My gender won’t be an issue MORE (Utah) and Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio: Clinton-Lynch meeting ‘raises all sorts of red flags’ Which GOP pols will actually attend the convention? Poll: Rubio holds massive lead in primary MORE (Fla.).

Conservatives had heavily criticized the bill, and the Club for Growth argued when it was approved in committee that Republicans who supported it were “tone deaf.”

GOP leaders did not whip against the procedural motions on Tuesday, but sources said it was possible there could be a filibuster against the bill later this week if it is not improved on the floor.

The Transportation bill is the first of 12 annual spending bills the Senate has taken up.

The split in the GOP over the measure first emerged in committee, when a half-dozen GOP senators voted with Democrats in supporting the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Finance: Obama signs Puerto Rico bill | Trump steps up attacks on trade | Dodd-Frank backers cheer 'too big to fail' decision | New pressure to fill Ex-Im board Iowa poll: Clinton up 14 on Trump, Grassley in tight race with Dem Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton creates firestorm for email case MORE (D-Nev.) said he selected that appropriations bill to bring to the floor first to highlight the spending differences between the House and Senate, in an effort to push Republicans into forming a budget conference committee.

“The companion measure from the House of Representatives puts affordable housing out of reach for many low-income Americans — many of whom are elderly or disabled,” Reid said Tuesday. “The House bill also slashes investments in new roads and bridges. … The Senate bill is a bipartisan blueprint for investing in modern infrastructure and creating new jobs while maintaining a vital social safety net. House Republicans obviously have a different vision.”

If the Senate approves the bill later this week, it would set up a difficult conference with the House.

The House Republican bill cuts the Community Development Block Grant program and high-speed rail projects, while Senate Democrats maintain most existing funding for those programs.

Collins, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee that handled the bill, worked closely with Sen. Patty MurrayPatty MurraySenate Dems: No August break without Zika deal Senators press Obama education chief on reforms Overnight Finance: Senate sends Puerto Rico bill to Obama | Treasury, lawmakers to meet on tax rules | Obama hits Trump on NAFTA | Fed approves most banks' capital plans MORE (D-Wash.), the chairman of the subcommittee, in putting the bill together.

She predicted that if the House and Senate go to conference, the final spending level would wind up lower than $54 billion.

"Could there be further cuts to our bill? Absolutely," Collins said. "I would bet that when we negotiate with the House, the allocation of funds will end up somewhere in the middle." 

 But Collins added that House cuts to the Community Development Block Grant program were unacceptable.

Murray touted the bipartisan support on Tuesday.

“The Senate transportation and housing bill received strong bipartisan support as it moved through the Appropriations Committee,” Murray said. “Because it helps families and communities, it gets workers back on the job. It’s fiscally responsible, and it lays down a strong foundation for long-term and broad-based economic growth.”

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