The Senate has approved an $838.2-billion economic stimulus bill by a 61-37 vote. The margin was slightly higher than the 60-vote minimum needed for approval, as Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, and Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, joined all 58 Democrats and Independents to vote for the bill.

The Senate package now must be reconciled with the estimated $819.5-billion stimulus measure that the House passed on January 28. The House bill has about $160 billion for construction programs; the Senate’s contains about $130 billion.

The Senate bill’s passage is not necessarily good news for architects, as it no longer contains funds earmarked for school construction. The original Senate bill had $19.5 billion directed toward school construction, of which $16 billion was for K-12 facilities and $3.5 billion for colleges and universities. Funds for greening federal buildings were also reduced, from $6 billion to $4.5 billion.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has teamed up with 66 organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Educational Association, to send a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to restore the school-construction portion of the bill. “We call on Congress to include the $14 billion for green, high-performing schools in the final version of the stimulus bill,” writes Paul Mendelsohn, the AIA’s vice president of government community relations.

The association also is testifying Wednesday morning during a hearing before the House Transportation Infrastructure Sub Committee. Harry Gordon, chairman of the architecture firm Burt Hill and founding member of the AIA’s Committee on the Environment, will speak at the hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m.

Shortly after today's vote, the Senate quickly named its representatives to the conference with the House, selecting Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana), Appropriations Committee Member Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), and Finance Committee Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The House has not yet announced its conferees.

Jenna M. McKnight contributed additional reporting for this story.

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