Reid signals Senate may not vote on cutting Nevada project's funds

WASHINGTON -- Senate leaders are negotiating which among dozens of amendments might be debated and voted in the coming days as part of a major highway funding bill.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada signaled Tuesday there is at least one proposal that may not get a vote: an amendment that would strip millions of dollars for his home state.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., filed an amendment that would disallow Reid from redirecting federal funds that were allocated in 2005 to help build a magnetic levitation train between Las Vegas and Southern California.

When the project stalled, about $28 million of the original $45 million was shifted to the Nevada Department of Transportation, according to state officials. Reid is seeking to reallocate the remainder, which the state has indicated would be spent for improvements to the Interstate 215 connector at McCarran International Airport.

But Johanns contends the funding is a Nevada-specific earmark disallowed under an "no earmark" agreement that Congress has been striving to operate under. Reid insists it is not an earmark because the money was already allocated for Nevada, and he wants merely to shift it within the state.

Reid said Tuesday that he was willing to hold votes on several amendments to the $109 billion highway reauthorization, including some not relevant to the bill, in the interest of advancing legislation seen as a major job creator.

"I have said ... there are amendments we don't want to take but yes, we will take them," he said. "This bill is so important. We can't take scores of amendments or dozens of amendments, but I am told there are a few (Republicans) want."

Asked about the Johanns proposal , Reid demurred, saying about a hundred amendments have been proposed. "We will not be able to deal with every one of them, and I don't intend to deal with every one of them," he said.

Johanns believes the Senate should be allowed to vote, press secretary Paul Donahue said. "The Senate promised an earmark-free highway bill and Senator Johanns thinks that promise should mean something, which is why he offered his amendment," Donahue said "If anyone believes this earmark isn't one, then they shouldn't be afraid of a vote on Senator Johanns' bipartisan amendment."

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., has co-sponsored Johanns' amendment. The office of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call she also supports it.

The highway bill has been delayed while Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., work out an amendment strategy.

Reid said the Senate will vote Thursday on an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., that would allow employers to not to offer workers insurance coverage for contraceptives if it violates the employer's religious beliefs.

Another amendment likely to be voted is by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. It seeks to cut foreign aid to Egypt for 30 days in response to the detention of 19 Americans associated with pro-democracy groups.

McConnell has not publicly indicated a position on the Johanns amendment, which would indicate whether it is important to the Republican leadership.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., told reporters this week he did not believe the Nevada reallocation was an earmark. Heller said he was holding off judgment on the amendment.