Price Opening Statement at T-HUD Full Committee Markup
Mr. Chairman, before we move onto the bill before us, I want to begin by offering my heartfelt sympathy and support to the passengers and families affected by Amtrak train 188 last night. The devastation is massive and the images, many of which were captured by our former colleague Patrick Murphy, are horrifying. As investigators continue to piece together the series of events that unfolded, this Committee must be committed to provide whatever assistance necessary to ensure safety aboard passenger rail systems.
Now as to the bill before us, once again, I want to congratulate Chairman Diaz-Balart on completing his first bill as the Chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee. He has been open and accessible throughout this process and receptive to concerns that subcommittee Members have raised. It has been a pleasure working with him.
As I stated at the Full Committee markup of the 302b allocations, the allocation for the transportation and housing appropriations bill is woefully inadequate. Despite the increase over last year’s allocation, the reality is that this bill is actually $1.5 billion below last year’s funding level. The Chairman was dealt a very difficult hand.
I do want to thank the Chairman for including $100 million for the TIGER program and $20 million for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. These are only token amounts, but funding them nominally in the base bill will give us a chance to return to them later, hopefully with a more adequate allocation, to provide more serious amounts to improve and modernize our nation’s transportation and housing infrastructure.
The bill before us provides funding to simply maintain the core safety functions of the Department of Transportation, but it does not provide adequate funding to address the capital needs required for safety. It also provides support for existing tenants in HUD-assisted housing. But mere adequacy, even in two important areas, does not make an acceptable bill.
This allocation put the Chairman in a position where he had to make deep cuts to capital programs within DOT and HUD – the very programs that create jobs and boost the economy. On the housing side, the bill contains $1.68 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund, which is a $225 million cut from last year. If enacted, this level would be about the same as the funding level in 1989. Given that new maintenance needs accrue at $3.4 billion per year, this level of funding would cover less than half of annual maintenance needs, while doing nothing to address the $25 billion backlog of deferred maintenance.
In transportation, the bill cuts the Federal Aviation Administration’s capital program by $355 million below the request and $100 million below last year. Funding at these levels will hamper FAA’s ability to maintain and improve aging facilities and slow down development progress on the agency’s NextGen program. The bill also cuts funding for Amtrak by 18 percent below last year and slashes the Federal Transit Administration’s capital investment grant program by 8 percent below last year and 41 percent below the President’s request.
These specific examples illustrate the fundamental flaw of this bill: its 302(b)allocation. This bill is a victim of the majority’s policy of self-imposed austerity. While one could rearrange the funding levels in this bill to address one or more of the key areas I have mentioned, there is no way to sufficiently address all of the gaps in funding needs throughout the bill, and I am afraid that in most of our attempts to make such modifications today, we will simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Our budget constraints are a major case of self-inflicted damage, and the irony is that the majority’s approach fails to address the real drivers of the deficit, tax expenditures and mandatory spending. Republican budgets have focused almost all deficit reduction efforts on domestic appropriations. This doesn’t work as fiscal policy, and it decimates the investments a great country must make. The bill before us today is a prime example of this folly. We simply cannot write a credible bill until we have a new budget agreement – ideally, a comprehensive one, but at the very least a one-year agreement such as the one that is getting us through the current year.
Finally, I am strongly opposed to the policy riders that were attached to this bill. Controversial riders generally should not be included on an appropriations bill, and those on truck length and weight have no place in particular, given that the authorizers are actively working on a reauthorization proposal. In addition, the bill continues to delay full implementation of DOT’s hours of service rule, despite the fact that the study we requested last year is underway. While the bill funds DOT’s safety functions on the one hand, I am concerned that these modifications are a calculated effort by the trucking industry to put their bottom line above driver safety.
I remain hopeful that this bill can be improved as it goes through the appropriations process. I look forward to working with the Chairman as we move forward.