Congress sent $18 billion in spending for the Department of Transportation to President Obama for a signature Thursday, boosting funds overall -- but zeroing out high speed rail.
The bill funds DOT programs until October 1, 2012, the end of the 2012 fiscal year. The $17.8 billion final price tag is about $4 billion over what the agency got last year, but nearly $15 billion less than what the White House had requested. The figure does not include nearly $40 billion for highway programs and the Highway Trust Fund. The latter is funded mostly from federal gasoline taxes, not general revenue.
But the big loser was high-speed rail. Republicans succeeded in their mission to zero out funding for the Obama Administration favorite. Senate Democrats had tried to include a $100 million "placeholder" to keep at least a bit of cash flowing, but it was removed during House-Senate negotiations.
The Federal Aviation Administration got a $137 million bump up to $12.5 billion in funding. But the controversial Essential Air Service, which subsidizes airfares to rural airports, was cut back to include only active airports.
The bill represents largely static funding for transportation, in a year where many domestic agencies are facing cuts in the name of deficit reduction. But, of course, the next big fight will come with the transportation authorization bill, which seeks to set policy and funding levels for DOT, highway, and transit programs for the next several years. Right now Senate Democrats are bidding a 2-year bill while Republicans are preparing to counter with a five-year effort.
You can check out a summary of the transportation appropriations committee conference report here.