WASHINGTON – Republicans opposing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that passed the House have pointed to two transportation projects as examples of pork that would politically benefit Democrats leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.
Now those projects are out of the bill.
Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that a subway extension through downtown San Jose did not meet requirements for inclusion in the bill because it is part of a pilot project. The project was set to receive about $141 million under the bill that passed in the House. The parliamentarians rulings are generally respected by the Senate.
Also, the $1.5 million in funding to maintain and operate a bridge connecting Canada and the United States in upstate New York, Schumer's home state, has been removed by Senate drafters of the bill.
The projects represent a tiny fraction of the overall bill's cost, but they became popular talking points for Republicans lining up in opposition to the measure, which they says is bloated and unfocused. The subway extension was described as “Speaker Pelosi's pork subway project" even though it is located 50 miles away from her district.
“Now that the two projects that Republicans misled the public about in the House bill have been removed, it is unclear how Republicans will justify their opposition to the American Rescue Plan, which has strong bipartisan support among the public," Hammill said.
The Senate bill is expected to largely mirror the House-approved package, with the most glaring divergence the Senate’s dropping of language boosting the federal minimum wage to $15 hourly.
Democrats are using special rules that will let them avoid GOP filibusters that would require them to garner an impossible 60 votes to approve the legislation.
Shortly before Pelosi's office confirmed that funding for the rail project had been removed, Bernice Alaniz of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in California explained that the $141 million slated for the project would help ensure it keeps moving at the planned schedule.
Construction is set to begin in 2022. Local and state sources are putting up three-quarters of the funding for the extension, among the highest match rates for similar projects across the country.
“It really is an essential transit alternative for a highly congested commute corridor and it serves two large universities — San Jose State and Santa Clara University,” Alaniz said. “So I know some of the criticisms are like, ‘oh, it’s for the high-tech oligarchs.’ But we serve transit dependent workers and we serve a large percentage of students going to these colleges.”
The Trump administration boasted of its efforts to fund the rail project when it approved $125 million in federal matching dollars back in 2019.
“This Administration is focused on expediting infrastructure projects," said then-Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. She added that the federal investment would help area residents “benefit from these improvements as quickly as possible."
Last week, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, described funding to operate and maintain the Seaway International Bridge over the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York as part of an “unrelated liberal wish list." But Schumer said on the Senate floor that the request for funding for the bridge did not come from him and in fact had come from the Trump administration five months ago. He said revenues needed to maintain the bridge had collapsed with no one using the bridge due to the pandemic.
“I learned about it being in the bill when I read about in in the newspaper," Schumer said.
The coronavirus bill has hundreds of billions of dollars for schools and colleges, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, mass transit systems, renters and small businesses. It also has money for child care, tax breaks for families with children and assistance for states willing to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income residents.