Fiscal 2011 spending for housing, transportation draws GOP attacks

Even though the bill would cost less than the current year's amount, Republicans on Thursday complained that legislation to provide funding in fiscal 2011 for housing, transportation and infrastructure programs will add to the federal government's fiscal woes.

While displaying a level of comity that even members said was becoming increasingly rare in Congress, members of the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee voted along party lines to reject most of the amendments offered by Republicans.

The bill that ultimately cleared the panel on a voice vote would provide $67.4 billion in discretionary spending for fiscal 2011 -- $500 million less than the fiscal 2010 discretionary level and $1.3 billion below what the president requested.

"Even with an allocation below last year, we were able to put together a bill that continues to invest in our transportation and housing programs," said Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Olver, D-Mass.

But Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Tom Latham, R-Iowa, noted that even though the measure would spend less than fiscal 2010, that bill included a 23 percent increase over fiscal 2009 appropriations, "so the $500 million is a drop in the bucket of where we need to go to bring this bill back to a reasonable rate."

Latham offered an amendment that would have cut $1.8 billion from the bill by reducing funding for several programs to the level requested by the Obama administration.

It failed on an 8-5 vote after Olver argued that the programs targeted by Latham -- such as cutting $400 million from a program that provides grants for high-speed rail and other projects -- create jobs and are aimed at keeping the nation's economy from slipping back into recession.

The panel also defeated, again on a 8-5 vote, an amendment offered by Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, that would have directed unused discretionary transit and highway funding set aside in the past for earmarks from Republicans be sent to the states using formulas included in last year's economic stimulus package.

Olver argued that the language would be subject to a point of order on the House floor and is an issue better dealt with by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

But Latham and Carter both noted that most of the bill could be subject to a point of order on the floor because Congress has yet to pass a surface transportation reauthorization measure.

The subcommittee also voted 8-5 to reject an amendment from House Appropriations ranking member Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., that would have required that highway funding be reduced to a level to ensure that there is at least $4 billion in the highway trust fund, an amount the CBO says is necessary to avoid delaying payments to the states, according to Lewis.

Under the current funding in the legislation, Lewis said, the trust fund would fall well below that level by 2012. "We can't keep bailing out the fund," Lewis said. "We should consider what the trust fund can support."

While saying that Lewis is "correct that something needs to be done to ensure the long-term viability of the [highway] infrastructure program," Olver said CBO has indicated that the fund will be solvent until 2013 and that the investments included in the spending bill are "critical."

The panel did approve by voice vote an amendment from Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, that would require greater transparency for grants provided under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, which provides grants for high-speed rail and other "innovative" transportation projects.

But LaTourette struck out, again on 8-5 votes, on two other amendments he offered, one of which would have required that the $200 million in funding for the livable communities program come from general Transportation Department funds, not from the highway trust fund. The other amendment would have barred highway funds from being shifted to the Education Department for an education jobs fund.

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