This is the first time the Full Committee will mark-up a bill that combines the Departments of Transportation, Treasury, the Judiciary, HUD, and several related agencies. The Subcommittee – which now has 19 Members – enthusiastically reported the bill to the Full Committee on Tuesday by a unanimous vote. Our increased membership is matched only by the expansion in the number of dollars and programs for which we are responsible. The bill that we will report this afternoon includes total budgetary resources of more than $141.4 billion. That's more than $11.6 billion over the President’s request.
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.
I want to thank Chairman Cochran and Senator Byrd for providing our Subcommittee with the necessary allocation of funds to allow us make these investments. Chairman Bond also 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 Chairman Bond for treating me as a full partner in this endeavor. His door has always been open to me. And 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, once our first manager’s amendment is adopted, the bill will include $1.45 billion – a twenty 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. Our funding recommendation falls right in the middle of that range.
This bill also recommends some reforms for Amtrak in the interest of helping Amtrak cut costs. It would be my preference that Amtrak’s reform provisions be considered fully by the Commerce Committee, and I understand that they will be having a mark-up of an Amtrak reform bill shortly.
The President’s budget asks that we throw Amtrak into bankruptcy and leave 22 million Americans stranded on the platform. This bill categorically rejects that approach and preserves all current rail routes so a meaningful debate on reform can continue without the threat of a crisis.
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 8 percent once our initial amendment is adopted. 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.
I'm pleased that this bill rejects new fees on wineries that the President proposed. Specifically, the Administration proposed increasing taxes or creating new fees on wineries in their fiscal year 2006 budget request. These fees would impose an unfair burden on small and family-run wineries, and this bill rightly rejects them.
It's clear that these fees would serve no benefit of the wine industry, despite the Administration's claims. I want to thank Chairman Bond for working with me to ensure that these new wine taxes did not make it into our bill.
But this is not the end of this issue. Last week, the Administration sent up this proposal to the House and Senate and is working on passing this as stand alone legislation or as part of the budget reconciliation process. On behalf of the wineries in Washington state and all across the country, I want to make it very clear that I will continue to oppose any effort to impose these illegitimate taxes on wineries.
Campaign Finance Reform Provision
While I am clearly supportive of the overall bill, I do want to raise a concern about the inclusion of a campaign finance reform provision. I have raised this with Chairman Bond previously. The bill includes a permanent change in law that allows Members’ leadership PACs to make direct donations to political parties. That controversial provision certainly requires sufficient debate on the Senate floor. I'm fear that this debate will take the focus off the very real questions about the programs in this bill and how they are funded. So I hope, as the bill moves forward, that the bipartisan Senate leadership will take a second look at this provision and remove it.
In summary, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you and Chairman Bond, as well as the staff on both the majority and minority side, for all the work that has gone into the drafting of this bill.