Price Floor Remarks Concerning T-HUD Appropriations Act
Mr. PRICE of North Carolina. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Chairman, as we begin consideration of H.R. 2577, the fiscal year 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, I want to start by thanking our chairman, Chairman Diaz-Balart, for the hard work he has put in on this bill. He has been open and accessible throughout this year's process, and he has been receptive to my concerns and the concerns that other subcommittee members and other colleagues have raised. It has been a pleasure working with him, and I look forward to continuing to do that throughout this process.
I also want to echo the thanks he just expressed to our hardworking staff, to Dena Baron and her colleagues in the majority, to Kate Hallahan and Joe Carlile on our side of the aisle, as well as Laura Thrift and Kate Roetzer from my personal staff.
Now, unfortunately, I have to add that there is going to be a lot of further work to do. It is necessary, and it is going to be 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 might appear that this bill is a relative winner when compared to other appropriations bills, as Chairman Rogers did increase the subcommittee's allocation by $1.5 million. 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 less capital investment than last year.
Mr. Chairman, 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 for fiscal 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--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.
Now, 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 any safer. How many train derailments, how many bridge collapses is it going to 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 in the Federal Transit Administration by 8 percent below this year, 40 percent below the President's request. It would cut DOT's enormously popular TIGER program by 80 percent. It cuts the Federal Aviation Administration's capital program by $355 million below the President's request, $100 million below last year. That will hamper FAA's ability to maintain and improve aging facilities and will slow down progress on the critical NextGen program.
The bill doesn't just provide insufficient funding for critical investments; it also contains toxic provisions completely unrelated to the appropriations process. For instance, riders on truck length and weight have no place in this bill. They should be left to the authorizing committees. The bill also continues to delay full implementation of the Department of Transportation's hours-of-service rule for driver safety by including additional, unmanageable study requirements. These riders, I regret to say, value the bottom line of the trucking industry over driver safety. They will actually make our roads more dangerous.
The bill also attempts to undermine President Obama's new policy related to the United States' relationship with Cuba. Some of the riders aim to prevent scheduled air services 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 the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. At such a low funding level, the program won't be able to fulfill its mission--transforming clusters of poverty into functioning, sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods and allowing the children who live there to have 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. That is 26 years ago! Given that new maintenance needs accrue at $3.4 billion per year, this level of funding would cover less than half the need while doing nothing to address a backlog that now amounts to $25 billion.
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 and for the disabled will not keep up with the demand.
Mr. Chairman, for centuries, our country's economic competitiveness 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 insisting on domestic appropriations cuts as the sole focus of deficit reduction--that is the majority's strategy--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. So let's stop this charade now. Let's not wait for Presidential vetoes or for governmental shutdowns. Let's confront it now! Let's begin serious, broad budget negotiations.
I know we can responsibly chart a course to fiscal balance; we have 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. And I mean comprehensive. Revenues, entitlements, military and domestic appropriations, everything was on the table. We balanced the budget 4 years in a row. We paid off more than $400 billion of this Nation's debt. Why is that lesson so hard to recollect?
By contrast, the current Republican budget gives us the worst of both worlds. It fails as fiscal policy, and it decimates the investments a great country must make.
In its current form, Mr. Chairman, I cannot support the fiscal 2016 T-HUD Appropriations bill. I do remain hopeful, however, that this bill could be improved as it goes through the appropriations process. I will continue working with the chairman as we move forward. I am confident that a new agreement on funding levels can give this bill and America's transportation and housing infrastructure the resources that our national interest requires.
I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. DIAZ-BALART. Mr. Chairman, at this time, I yield as much time as he may use to the gentleman from Kentucky (Mr. Rogers), a friend, a leader, a teacher, and the chairman of the full Appropriations Committee.
Mr. ROGERS of Kentucky. I thank the chairman for yielding me this time.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this bill, obviously, the fiscal 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill.