June 5, 2018 3:30 PM, EDT

Trump’s Transportation Cuts Rejected by Senate Panel

Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS

Senators are pushing back on President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to transportation and housing programs in a spending bill advanced to the full Appropriations Committee.

The $71.4 billion bill, which the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee approved on a voice vote June 5, rejects reductions to a program run by HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs that offers rental assistance to homeless veterans, said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

The bill also would provide $3.3 billion for HUD’s Community Development Block Grants and $2.6 billion for the Department of Transportation’s Capital Investment Grants. The Trump administration, in its fiscal 2019 budget request, sought to eliminate both programs. Community Development Block Grant funding was “the most frequent” request among 70 senators who suggested provisions in the bill, Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) said at the June 5 markup.

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The full Senate Appropriations Committee plans to mark up the bill June 7. The committee typically releases the text of the bill and the committee report only after the full committee markup.

“The administration is fighting to eliminate these programs and shift the burden to state and local jurisdictions, but that is the wrong approach,” Reed said of the capital investment grants, which fund rail and bus transit projects.

The transportation-housing bill probably will be packaged on the Senate floor with a measure funding military construction and the VA, Collins said, although that isn’t set in stone. It could go to the floor in either the first or second batches of bills, she said.

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The House plans to vote this week on a “minibus” (H.R. 5895) covering military construction-VA, energy and water, and legislative branch appropriations. The Senate doesn’t plan to follow the House lead in that pairing, Collins said.

Senators also broke with their House colleagues on funding for some major programs in the T-HUD bill. The Senate bill would provide $26.6 billion for the Department of Transportation and $44.5 billion for HUD. The House would push more money toward transit, providing $27.8 billion for transportation and $43.6 billion for the housing agency.

The Senate bill lacks funds for a high-speed magnetic levitation, or “maglev,” train from Washington to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which eventually would be extended to New York City. The House bill includes $150 million for the project, aiming to leverage $5 billion in investment from Japan.

The Senate bill also includes $1 billion for the BUILD program, previously called the TIGER grant program. The House’s bill includes $750 million.

Collins said she hopes for bipartisan support for the T-HUD bill. Reed said in a brief interview June 4 he’s happy with the bill. He praised the legislation’s $285 million for lead-based paint remediation programs and $50 million for construction of new senior housing at the June 5 markup.

The bill “does not include controversial riders,” Collins said.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News 

The Senate bill provides funding that the New York-New Jersey Hudson River Gateway Tunnel project could receive, without earmarking money for the project, Collins told reporters.

“It will go through the same process as other projects,” Collins said.

Absent from the bill is language calling for an increased passenger facility charge to pay for airport infrastructure, Collins said. She supports an increased charge and pushed for one in the fiscal 2018 spending bill, but House lawmakers were “adamantly opposed,” she told reporters.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said he may offer an amendment in the full committee markup adding a measure that would exempt drivers transporting livestock from federal limits on hours of service for drivers of commercial and passenger vehicles. The rule, which is meant to pre-empt dangerously long hours for drivers, needs to offer more flexibility for drivers who have to stop to feed cattle, Hoeven said.

Collins, who wants to avoid policy riders, said she hopes a recent guidance by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will avoid the need for authorizing language to be added into her spending bill. The administration issued a guidance last week saying the time limit on driving doesn’t begin for drivers transporting livestock until they’ve exited a 150-mile radius from their starting point.

Administration Pushback

The White House Office of Management and Budget sent two letters June 4 to Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) criticizing areas in which appropriators differed with the administration on a pair of spending bills: energy and water, and agriculture-Food and Drug Administration.

In the agriculture-FDA bill, the administration criticized what it called excessive funding for the Economic Research Service, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Agriculture Marketing Service, the Rural Broadband Pilot Program, the McGovern Dole International Food for Education program, and a total of $1.7 billion in international food aid, which the administration said should go through the U.S. Agency for International Development rather than the Department of Agriculture.

In the energy and water bill, the administration complained that funding levels are too high for the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Energy Department and two of its entities — the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy — and for a variety of loan programs, among others.

Education Funds

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Labor-HHS — Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said his panel likely will continue funding major programs the Education Department has targeted in its budget for reductions, Emily Wilkins reports.

Blunt and other committee members voiced their support during a hearing June 4 for major formula grants the department has proposed cutting. Blunt didn’t specify which programs, but two major formula programs include $1.1 billion in grants that support a range of programs including ones focused on arts, mental health and technology. Another major formula grant provides after-school programs and is currently funded at $1.2 billion.

Blunt also suggested to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that the committee would continue to fund smaller programs including Special Olympics and arts and education activities.

“Many of the proposals in the budget you suggest eliminate programs,” Blunt said. “Some of that can be done,” he said, “but I think it’s likely the committee will look at the work we just completed.”

Summer School

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said June 5 the chamber will work through August, a month when both chambers traditionally leave Washington. McConnell cited the need for the Senate to act on a number of issues, including “the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year.” The Republican leader blamed “historic obstruction” by Democrats on nominees for the need to cancel the summer recess.

With assistance from Erik Wasson and Emily Wilkins