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The House GOP’s Transportation and Housing and Urban Development funding bill would cut $8 billion from the departments. But that’s not what scuttled the vote.
House Republicans this week hit an unexpected roadblock when members of their party refused to support a government funding bill that would significantly cut transportation and housing dollars for state and local governments.
A vote on the bill was abandoned Tuesday when a group of Republicans from the Northeast said they would not support the measure, which called for reducing federal funding to operate Amtrak nationwide by nearly two-thirds. Under the proposal, funding to run the rail service in the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., would be cut by 85%.
Republicans representing New York and other states affected by the cuts ultimately refused to go along. House leadership has not said when a vote on the measure, which would cut funding for Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, or THUD, programs by a fourth, or by $8 billion, will be rescheduled.
The Republicans’ inability to come together also left in limbo other significant cuts called for in the bill, including slashing the budget for the largest source of federal funding for states to build affordable housing and a prohibition on using federal dollars for transit-oriented development.
“Several of us are concerned about it,” said Rep. Mike Lawler, a New York Republican. He smirked and shook his head no when asked by Route Fifty before the vote was scrapped if he would vote in favor of the bill even with the cuts.
Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees transportation and housing funding, said during a debate Monday night that Republicans are trying to “get our debt under control by cutting excess spending.” But since the nation’s debt is so large, he said, Republicans are forced to trim programs “that are, quite frankly, popular on both sides of the aisle.”
Cole defended the cuts to Amtrak noting that the rail service received billions in funding through the 2021 infrastructure act. The Biden administration, for instance, announced Monday that it would spend $16 billion to upgrade or replace a dozen bridges and tunnels all along the Northeast Corridor that are more than a century old.
However, Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner said in a statement that despite the infrastructure dollars for capital improvements, the rail service still relies on Congress to provide annual funding to run its trains and maintain its national network. The cuts, he said, “would severely reduce our service nationally and impact thousands of jobs.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House appropriations committee, said the cuts would also impact smaller communities with stations in the Northeast Corridor.
“We are not just talking about how people get to and from New York City, or how we get to Washington, D.C.,” DeLauro said. “Communities of every size line the route, from rural towns to suburbs to urban destinations, and those communities rely heavily on rail travel for connectivity and for commerce.”
The debate over the transportation and housing bill not only is stalling the cuts to Amtrak but to a range of other programs sought by Republicans that the House and Democratic-controlled Senate will eventually have to resolve in order to approve a federal spending bill for next year and end the continuous threats of a government shutdown.
They are already far apart on a measure passed last week that would cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by $4 billion or 39%, including severely decreasing funding to states for water programs.
The Senate’s transportation and housing proposal would largely keep spending the same as this year’s budget.
But in addition to funding for Amtrak, House Republicans want to make several cuts to transportation and housing programs. They’ve already passed several amendments that cut what they call wasteful spending on the Biden administration’s climate agenda. Republicans, for instance, voted to add to the bill the elimination of $700 million in funding for state and local governments to build more electric vehicle charging stations.
Also on the cutting board should the transportation and housing spending bill eventually pass is the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which provided $1.5 billion to states to create more affordable housing and provide rental assistance. The Republican proposal would reduce funding for the program by two-thirds to $500 million. The House’s proposal would also eliminate the Choice Neighborhoods program, which replaces aging HUD-assisted housing with mixed-income housing.
Funding for public transit and rail expansions would also be slashed by $2.3 billion, which would be an 11% cut to funding even when combined with the money provided under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Among the cuts to transit would be a $2.2 billion reduction in funding for Capital Investment Grants, which fund projects like building a bus rapid transit line in Tucson and extending Minneapolis’ light rail blue line and Chicago’s Red Line. The Senate, meanwhile, would increase spending by 6.3%, or $240 million, for the program.
The House would further cut transportation funding by eliminating the so-called RAISE grants, which were known as TIGER grants during the Obama administration and BUILD grants under the Trump administration. RAISE grants funded 166 transportation projects last year—nearly two-thirds of them in historically disadvantaged communities or areas with persistent poverty.
The spending proposal, Oklahoma’s Cole said, tries to focus spending on what Republicans consider to be the highest priorities. Despite the cuts it calls for, he said the proposal would provide funding to hire 1,800 new air traffic controllers. The House, like the Senate, is calling for increasing highway funding for states. And the bill provides additional funding for housing on tribal lands (Cole is one of five Native Americans in Congress).
Cole also said the House proposal would also provide funding for housing to help our “most vulnerable citizens—especially the elderly, the disabled, veterans and the working poor.”
Funding for housing would increase by $6.4 billion or by about 10%, including increasing spending for housing vouchers by $3 billion.
The Senate proposal, which passed last week as part of its “minibus” of three appropriations bills, would provide slightly more for vouchers, $3.4 billion.
However, Garth Rieman, director of housing advocacy and strategic initiatives for the National Council of State Housing Agencies, said both the proposals would not be enough to meet rising housing prices. As a result, the Housing and Urban Development Department would have to reduce the number of people who receive the assistance. Rieman said state housing agencies would prefer the vouchers program receive the $5 billion proposed by President Joe Biden.
The THUD bill wasn't the only vote that was shelved. The House on Thursday also canceled a vote on another measure that sets spending for the judiciary branch, Treasury Department and IRS. According to Politico, some GOP lawmakers have taken issue with a provision that would block a District of Columbia law that prevents employers from discriminating against workers who seek contraception or family planning services.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty, covering Congress and federal policy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Kery_Murakami