PRICE OPENING STATEMENT IN T-HUD GENERAL DEBATE
Mr. Chairman, as we begin consideration of H.R. 2577, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, I want to first thank Chairman Diaz-Balart for his work on this bill. He has been open and accessible throughout this year’s process and has been receptive to my concerns and the concerns that subcommittee Members and other colleagues have raised. It is a pleasure working with him, and I look forward to continuing to do so throughout this process.
I also want to thank and acknowledge the hardworking staff – Dena Baron for the majority and Kate Hallahan and Joe Carlile on our side of the aisle, as well as Laura Thrift and Kate Roetzer from my personal staff.
Unfortunately, I have to say that further work is going to be both necessary and difficult. That is not the Chairman’s fault. He was dealt an impossible hand in the Republican budget and an allocation that is simply unworkable.
At first glance, it may appear that this bill is a relative winner when compared to the other appropriations bills, as Chairman Rogers increased this Subcommittee’s allocation by $1.5 billion. However, the reality is that once you factor in declining Federal Housing Administration receipts, increased Section 8 renewal costs, and other inflationary adjustments, this bill is actually $1.5 billion below last year’s funding level – resulting in fewer services and capital investments than last year.
The programs under the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee are critical to our nation’s economic and social well-being – providing necessary funding to improve housing and transportation options, creating infrastructure jobs for hardworking American families, and ensuring safe and adequate transportation networks for goods, commuters, and travelers. But our nation’s transportation and housing systems face daunting challenges, and on almost every count, this bill falls short.
The President requested a robust increase for this bill in FY 2016, calling on Congress to provide the critical investments necessary to accelerate and sustain economic growth. Unfortunately, the bill before us would not even begin to address our infrastructure needs.
In transportation, the bill levies deep cuts to capital programs. As we learned from the Amtrak derailment last month in Philadelphia, these cuts can have clear, direct consequences for the safety of our transportation system. The bill before us cuts Amtrak by 18 percent below last year. There is no funding for the expansion of safety mechanisms, including Positive Train Control, which regulates the excessive speeds that caused the Philadelphia derailment.
No one can say whether Positive Train Control would have prevented the tragedy in Philadelphia, but cutting funding certainly isn’t making our transportation system safer. How many train derailments or bridge collapses will it take before the Majority agrees that we must invest in our crumbling transportation infrastructure?
The bill before us would also reduce funding for the New Starts program by 8 percent below this year and 40 percent below the President’s request, and it would cut DOT’s enormously popular TIGER program by 80 percent. It also cuts the Federal Aviation Administration’s capital program by $355 million below the request and $100 million below last year, which will hamper FAA’s ability to maintain and improve aging facilities and will slow down progress on the NextGen program.
This bill doesn’t just provide insufficient funding for critical investments – it also includes toxic provisions completely unrelated to the appropriations process. For instance, riders on truck length and weight have no place in this bill and should be left to the authorizers. The bill also continues to delay full implementation of DOT’s hours-of-service rule for driver safety by including additional, unmanageable study requirements. These riders value the bottom line of the trucking industry over driver safety and will make our roads more dangerous.
The bill also attempts to undermine President Obama’s new policy related to the United States’ relationship with Cuba by preventing scheduled air service and cruise ship travel to Cuban ports of entry.
On the housing side, the bill fails to adequately address the capital needs of public housing. For example, the bill provides only the token amount of $20 million for Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. At such a low funding level, the program will not be able to fulfill its mission—transforming clusters of poverty into functioning, sustainable mixed income neighborhoods and allowing the children who live there from having the opportunities that all Americans deserve.
The bill contains $1.68 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund, which is a $194 million cut from last year. If enacted, this level would be about the same as the funding level in 1989 – 26 years ago! Given that new maintenance needs accrue at $3.4 billion per year, this level of funding would cover less than half of the need while doing nothing to address the $25 billion backlog.
The majority’s bill transforms, or more accurately devolves, the Housing for the Elderly and Housing for the Disabled programs into purely rental renewal programs. Without capital funding, the supply of safe, decent and affordable housing for the elderly or the disabled will not keep up with the demand.
Mr. Chairman, for centuries, our country’s economic competiveness has been built upon a world-class infrastructure that enabled innovation and ingenuity to flourish. This bill and the budgetary levels it reflects undermine the continued viability of our nation’s infrastructure and our economic vitality. We simply cannot write a credible bill until we have a new budget agreement.
This bill clearly illustrates the folly of dogmatically cutting domestic appropriations as the sole focus of deficit reduction, while leaving the main drivers of the deficit unaddressed. Under sequestration funding levels, any advancement of appropriations bills is simply delaying the day of reckoning. Let’s stop this charade now, and begin serious, broad budget negotiations.
I know we can responsibly chart a course to fiscal balance; we've done it before, as recently as the 1990s. We achieved budget surpluses as the result of a concerted, bipartisan effort to balance the budget through a comprehensive approach. Revenues, entitlements, military and domestic appropriations – all were on the table. We balanced the budget four years in a row, paying off more than $400 billion of the national debt.
By contrast, the current Republican budget strategy fails as fiscal policy, while decimating the investments a great country must make.
In its current form, I cannot support the Fiscal Year 2016 THUD appropriations bill. However, I remain hopeful that this bill can be improved as it goes through the appropriations process and I will continue working with the Chairman as we move forward. I am confident that a new agreement on spending levels can give this bill and America’s transportation and housing infrastructure the resources that our national interest requires.