Mr. Chairman, this is the first mark-up to be held by our new, expanded Subcommittee. We now have 19 Senators serving on this Subcommittee. Our increased membership is matched only by the expansion in the number of dollars and programs for which we are responsible.
There are many good things to say about this bill. I think the best feature is that it rejects many of the punitive and wrong-headed cuts proposed in the President’s budget.
Whether it is funding to continue rail service in our country; build new runways to alleviate congestion at our airports; construct new housing for our low-income seniors and the disabled; invest in community development; or aggressively enforce our drug laws, this bill rejects the President’s painful cuts. Instead, our bill invests the funds to make our world safer and to advance the needs of our infrastructure and our people.
Chairman Bond deserves a great deal of credit for ensuring that, even with so many new programs now under our jurisdiction, every program was thoroughly reviewed and considered. I want to thank him for treating me as a full partner in this endeavor. His door has always been open to me. While we don’t see eye-to-eye on every funding level and every provision in this bill, I think the bill we're considering is truly an effort at bipartisan consensus.
I'd like to review some of the priorities in this bill, starting with aviation. This bill rejects the Administration’s proposal to slash funding for our nation’s airports. It also preserves funding for the essential air service program so that rural communities across the country will continue to receive air service. I am pleased that the bill attempts to boost hiring of air safety inspectors at the FAA. Last year, this Committee fully funded the President’s request for safety inspectors. What happened? The FAA downsized this office by more than 300 people. With the nation’s airlines in turmoil, and all the airlines seeking to cut costs, now is not the time to cut our safety inspector workforce.
For Amtrak, the bill includes $1.4 billion – a sixteen percent increase over the current year’s levels. The DOT Inspector General testified to us that Amtrak would require between $1.4 and $1.5 billion next year if it is to maintain all of its current routes and services. The bill also recommends some reforms for Amtrak in the interest of helping Amtrak cut costs. It would be my preference that Amtrak’s reform provision be considered fully by the Commerce Committee, and I understand that they will be having a mark-up of an Amtrak reform bill shortly.
Funding for the Judiciary is up 6.6 percent -- slightly higher than the level passed by the House of Representatives. I am confident that this funding level will continue to enable the Judiciary to continue its important work without any threat of staff layoffs.
Within the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the President proposed to move the Community Development Block Grant program over to the Department of Commerce and to cut the funding by more than a third. I am pleased to say that we will continue to fund CDBG in this bill, though funding will be reduced about 10 percent. Some of the more damaging cuts in the President’s HUD budget -- including cuts to new construction for housing for the disabled and cuts to funding for housing funds for AIDS patients -- have been rejected.
Within the Executive Office of the President, the White House proposed to cut funding for the drug law enforcement activities of the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas by more than 50 percent. Our bill, however, rejects this cut entirely and fully funds the HIDTA program.
This bill provides a 3.1 percent pay raise for all Federal employees – an identical adjustment for military and civilian workers. Also, on a matter relating to Federal employees, I am very pleased the Chairman Bond and Senator Mikulski were able to reach a compromise on competitive sourcing to provide for a level playing field when it comes to efforts by the federal government to contract out federal jobs.
In summary, Mr. Chairman, I thank you and your staff, along with my staff, who have done an excellent job in trying to meet the highest priority needs of all Senators within the tight funding allocation we were given.