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President Barack Obama would get just a small fraction of the money he wants to build high-speed rail lines, one of his leading economic priorities, under a bill approved Wednesday by a Democratic-led Senate committee.
On a voice vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee included $100 million for the rail program in a massive measure financing 2012 federal transportation and housing programs. Obama wants to spend $8 billion next year for the rail systems, in which trains can travel between cities at up to 250 miles per hour.
"We believe this program has a future to it," said the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Richard Durbin of Illinois, who sponsored the amendment adding the money. "We understand the budgetary constraints."
High-speed rail now faces a dismal future in Congress, at least in the short term. A subcommittee in the Republican-run House has approved legislation denying any money for the project next year.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., author of the overall $110 billion transportation and housing bill, included nothing for high-speed rail in the original version of the legislation. She cited tight spending constraints that lawmakers face as they struggle to control ballooning federal deficits.
Durbin said the $100 million for the rail work would be paid for with unspent money from past home district projects called earmarks.
Obama has proposed a $53 billion, six-year high-speed rail initiative. He says the project would spur the languid economy, produce jobs and help make the U.S. more competitive with other countries that already have fast rail service.
The Appropriations panel approved the transportation-housing bill by 28-2.
The Senate panel faced another battle on a separate bill it also was debating Wednesday, this one over a GOP effort to prevent the National Labor Relations Board from forcing Boeing Co. to build its new 787 jetliner in Washington state, instead of South Carolina.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was working on language that would block the NLRB from ordering employers to move work to certain locations. The GOP's battle against the labor agency has become a high-profile issue for Republicans and the business community, who say the NLRB has overstepped its authority and is interfering with Boeing's corporate decisions.
In April, the NLRB filed a complaint alleging that the aircraft maker violated the law when it opened a new 787 production line in Charleston, S.C.
NLRB acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, has said the company placed the plant in South Carolina, a right-to-work state, to punish union workers in Washington state for past strikes.
South Carolina is among 22 states that have laws forbidding companies and unions to require union membership or the payment of fees to unions.
Boeing has denied that it was trying to punish Washington workers, saying it had legitimate economic reasons for preferring South Carolina. It says the NLRB order would force the company to close the $750 South Carolina plant and cost more than 1,000 jobs there.
The NLRB amendment was due to be offered to a $158 billion measure financing labor, health and other social programs next year.