Monday, February 21, 2011
This past weekend, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to cut $61 billion from President Obama's budget for 2011. Needless to say, Democrats hate it, and the legislation faces much higher hurdles on its way to becoming a law. But should the Senate reject or Obama veto, Republicans have promised not to reauthorize spending once the government runs out of money—in two weeks. If that happens, the federal government will essentially stop working.
Monday, February 14, 2011
(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Transportation projects are set to take a massive, immediate hit under a spending bill headed for the floor of the House of Representatives this week.
Republicans are aiming to cut nearly $15.5 billion from the section of the budget carrying transportation and housing funding. The money comes out of highway projects, infrastructure investments, and particularly high-speed rail.
The bill, what’s known in Washington as a continuing resolution, funds the government from March 4 through the end of September, 2011. Overall it contains around $63 billion in immediate cuts from current spending levels across the government. It’s all part of Republicans' pledge to reduce immediately reduce spending, and it could go even further by the time the bill is done being amended on the floor.
It’s also prelude to a broader budget fight hitting Washington this week. President Obama unveils his Fiscal 2012 budget plan Monday morning. That covers spending beginning October 1, 2011, and its big transportation highlight--$53 billion in high-speed rail funding—is already attracting Republican derision.
“We’re broke,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday morning. He repeated the refrain all week as Democrats, and even some Republicans, complained about the pain such immediate cuts could cause.
Before we look at specifics, keep in mind: After passing the House, this bill still needs to get through the Senate, where Democrats have a majority and lawmakers overall are considerably less enthusiastic about immediate discretionary spending cuts than are their House colleagues.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a conservative member of the Appropriations Committee and a spending hawk, acknowledged late last week that the aim of the deep-cutting House bill was two-fold: To fulfill Republicans campaign promises and to go into negotiations with the Senate “with as big a number as possible.”
A good chunk of that big number will come out of high-speed rail, if the House GOP gets its way. The continuing resolution hitting the House floor this week goes after $2.475 billion in funding already sent out to rail projects under stimulus and from other sources. It also seeks to hold back another $2.5 billion in high-speed rail funding yet to go out the door.
But rail isn’t alone. The bill cuts $600 million in general “national infrastructure investments," and takes another $600 million-plus from Federal Aviation Administration. Highways take a major hit as well, with $650 million slated for cuts to the Federal Highway Administration’s general fund and another $293 million in cuts to “surface transportation priorities”.
Democrats are predictably incensed at the GOP package. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused Republicans of taking a “meat axe” to the federal budget. House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), responded to the GOP proposals by backing a quick, and ultimately failed floor attempt to renew “Build America Bonds” for infrastructure funding.
“When you say they want to cut transportation, we know right away that’s a false economy,” Pelosi said to an organized labor crowd including members of the United Steel Workers on Thursday.
But the House’s cuts in general, and high-speed rail cuts in particular, are music to the ears of many Senate Republicans, at least publicly. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the senior Republican on the Budget Committee said Thursday that high-speed rail projects were not efficient at stoking economic growth and should be killed.
The continuing resolution is set to hit the House floor Tuesday for at least two days of debate and amendments, possibly more. Conservative lawmakers are promising attempts to cut even more from federal spending right away. According to Boehner, if successful amendments lead to even deeper immediate cuts this week, “that’s fine.”
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
By Karol Markowicz : IAFC Blogger
—Karol Markowicz, It's A Free Country blogger
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
By Justin Krebs : IAFC Blogger
The Republican majority moves into the House of Representatives today, fueled by the energy of newly elected Tea Partiers who arrive declaring that they’ll shake things up, undo Obama’s victories and change Washington.
My prediction: they will cause some commotion, get a good deal of attention, undo nothing and Washington will survive yet another push to transform it, for better or for worse.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) State and local transportation planners may have had an uneasy sleep last night after hearing that the Senate's top-ranking Republican is backing a ban on earmark spending in Congress.
The impact of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell's (KY) pledge is still unclear. Senate Republicans are set to vote on a voluntary moratorium on pet-project spending on Tuesday. But McConnell's reversal from earmark champion to reluctant opponent is sure to throw uncertainty into hundreds of transportation projects around the country.
House Republicans have already pledged to forgo earmarks in spending bills that leave the chamber. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the presumptive next speaker of the House, has said the GOP majority will stick to the pledge in the next Congress. Now that Senate Republicans may follow suit, money for individual projects could become stickier business in the already murky legislative process.
But Democrats have made no such pledge and instead have defended the importance of earmarks to steering funding to projects in their states. Many Republicans make the same arguments but appear to have been overwhelmed by voters' apparent anger over government spending and the success of anti-earmark Tea Party candidates and other conservatives in the recent midterm elections.
So what will be the impact on transportation projects in the near term? Unclear. Many local papers are already worrying aloud that more cutbacks on earmarks could spell doom for critical local projects. But that may not necessarily be the case. Earmarks have many definitions, but the most common one refers to projects not requested by the White House or a federal agency but that make it into a bill anyway at the request of individual lawmakers. Even if that brand of earmark is avoided by some lawmakers, it would be unlikely to prevent Congress from spending an equal amount of money in a less defined way, leaving specific programming decisions up to federal agencies.
The House in July passed a $70 billion transportation and housing funding bill that contained some 560 earmarks, many for local transit and infrastructure projects. But the Senate has yet to act on the bill. In fact, non-stimulus transportation spending is likely to get wrapped up in a much larger "omnibus" spending bill likely to pass Congress in the next few months. Whether the bill contains any earmarks, and who has requested them, is an open question.
And what about the medium and long term? Earmark spending is a time-honored, if unseemly, practice in a Congress that derives it's power primarily by controlling the nation's purse strings. Will Republicans return to earmarking when the economy improves and there is less political pressure around spending?
We'll know a little more after Senate Republicans vote on the earmark moratorium Tuesday.