House stays on schedule with spending bills

The House on Thursday approved the fiscal 2010 $123.1 billion Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill, which includes $68.8 billion in discretionary spending, as House Democratic leaders neared their goal of getting all 12 spending bills through the House by August.

The bill, approved 256-168, consists of $75.8 billion for transportation programs and $47.1 billion for housing and community development programs. The House also approved the fiscal 2010, $160.7 billion Labor-HHS spending bill on Friday.

Appropriations bills are moving along in the Senate, which is likely to take up the fiscal 2010, $34.2 billion Energy and Water Appropriations bill next week, Senate aides said.

The House Transportation-HUD measure is $53 million below President Obama's request and $14.3 billion, or 13 percent, above the fiscal 2009 level, excluding funding from the $787 billion economic stimulus bill enacted in February.

During debate, Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Olver, D-Mass., said the bill represents a balance of competing priorities.

Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommitee ranking member Tom Latham, R-Iowa, though, said he believes the bill provides too much in discretionary spending, a $13.8 billion, or 25 percent, boost over fiscal 2009.

"That is a huge increase, and there should be a number of perfecting amendments as part of a serious debate, if for no other reason to let our constituents have a say on how those funds are spent," Latham said in an effort to highlight Republican criticism of Democratic leaders for limiting amendments to the bill. Republicans have made this a familiar line of attack this year, claiming that limiting amendments breaks with traditional practice on the spending bills.

Democrats have said that they need to keep to their tight schedule to get the bills done by the end of the fiscal year to avoid an omnibus spending bill.

Latham was discouraged that he was not permitted to offer an amendment that would have sought to transfer $3 billion from the $4 billion the bill would provide for high-speed rail to help shore up the Highway Trust Fund. The fund, which is made up of gas tax receipts that are distributed to states annually to help finance highway and transit projects, could run out of funds as soon as August.

"One of my biggest concerns in this bill is that we do nothing to address the coming situation with the Highway Trust Fund that runs out of money," Latham said. "At some point, we will have to bail out the fund with general fund resources. We should all be looking for the most expeditious ways to make any contribution we can."

Meanwhile, the House considered 23 amendments to the bill, and rejected 16, including a proposal offered by Latham to cut $3 billion for high-speed rail and strike language that would allow transfer of the money to a national infrastructure bank that Congress is considering but has not authorized. The amendment was defeated, 284-136.

The House also rejected, 313-116, an amendment offered by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., and three other New York-area lawmakers seeking to prohibit the FAA from implementing an area airspace redesign project.

Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, sought to cut nine earmarks from the bill, but all of their efforts failed.

Flake targeted a $500,000 earmark requested by House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wisc., to add turn lanes, signals, and sidewalks and improve the safety and efficiency of Rib Mountain Drive in Wausau, Wis. The amendment was defeated 329-105.

Flake called into question the need for the earmark.

"Why are we paying for a roadway that doesn't serve an interstate? It is a local transportation project that should be funded locally."

Obey said that Wisconsin ranks "way down the list ... on its per capita return on federal dollars" and that the growth in Arizona over the last 40 years was heavily financed with federal dollars.

"I think what the gentleman is suggesting is that now that Arizona got his he begrudges somebody else trying to get pennies by comparison," Obey said. "I make no apology whatsoever for trying to improve" safety on the road.

Hensarling offered an amendment seeking to strip $2 million from the bill requested by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for the Doyle Drive Replacement project in San Francisco.

Hensarling suggested that Pelosi should give up the earmark in a small effort to begin to reduce the deficit, which he said has grown under the Democratic majority.

"If you don't change the culture of spending, how are you ever going to change the spending?" Hensarling asked.

Olver, who spoke against Hensarling's proposal, said the funds are needed to help replace the only link between the San Francisco peninsula and the northern California counties and is important as a post-disaster recovery route.

Dan Friedman contributed to this report.

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