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.
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 Reid (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 Murray (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.”