News Releases

I believe that we are bringing a very good bill to the Subcommittee today. It represents a lot of hard work and compromise between us. I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for engaging in a very open and fair process. We have tackled some of the most challenging issues in transportation, housing, community development, and federal financial management.



Frankly, the best part about this bill is that it rejects the budget priorities of the Bush Administration. In nearly every case, this bill restores the punitive funding cuts that the President has requested. That's good news for our communities, for our economy, and for our future. Let me share a few highlights.



Aviation

The Administration wanted to cut our investment in America's airport infrastructure by over three-quarters of a billion dollars. This bill restores every penny to that program. The Administration wanted to eliminate direct appropriations for the Essential Air Service Program, which provides critical air service to some rural communities. We restored the funding to the current level, so these communities can stay connected to air service.

CDBG

Mr. Chairman, as you know, I have a special interest in the Community Development Block Grant program. I've seen the difference it can make for communities and individuals. Last year, the Bush Administration sought severe cuts to CDBG, and last year we restored some – but not all – of those cuts. This year, again, the Bush Administration sought to slash this program by $1.2 billion or 27 percent. I am proud to report that we have restored every penny the President sought to cut. That is great news for communities from coast to coast and I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your leadership on CDBG funding.



HUD

I also want to commend you, Mr. Chairman, for your steadfast support for the broader mission and programs in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. You worked with the entire Subcommittee to restore punitive cuts. As you know, the President sought to cut housing for the elderly by 26 percent and housing for the disabled by 50 percent. Our bill rejects both of those cuts.



Not only have we rejected the President’s proposed cuts for the capital investments in our Nation’s public housing stock, but – for the first time in a long time – we have increased funding for the Public Housing Capital Fund. We were also able to provide a small increase for the Public Housing Operating Fund to address some of the critical shortfalls created by soaring utility costs.



As you are aware, Mr. Chairman, there was not enough funding in our allocation to restore all of the cuts in HUD. Fortunately, however, working with the Banking Committee, we have found some legislative savings in the Federal Housing Administration that has provided us with hundreds of millions of dollars to work with. That funding went to restore CDBG and adequately fund the Public Housing Capital and Operating Funds.



Alcohol Producer Fees

I'm also pleased that we rejected the Treasury Department’s proposal to fund the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau through user fees. That means that there will be no new taxes imposed on beer producers in Missouri or wine producers in Washington State. I don’t know why the Treasury Department keeps sending up this proposal; they should just look at the roster of this Subcommittee and give up.

Other Provisions

Members should be aware that there are a number of permanent changes in law included in this bill. As I already mentioned, some of these changes in the HUD area actually freed up funding for us to invest in restoring funding to critical HUD programs. There is a carefully negotiated compromise regarding the fate of air service into Dallas Love Field. There is also a provision that requires the FAA to raise the mandatory retirement age for commercial pilots to age 65. All of these provisions will be subject to Rule XVI when the bill reaches the Floor, so Members’ rights will be protected if they wish to strike these provisions on a point-of-order. I have to admit that I am reserving judgment on the pilot retirement rule until I can talk to the safety experts about it.

Amtrak

Finally, I want to take a moment to talk about the funding level and policy established in this bill for Amtrak. For the Nation’s passenger railroad, this bill includes $1.4 billion, which is precisely the amount recommended by the DOT Inspector General as necessary to maintain all current services of the railroad. It is, however, some $200 million less than the Amtrak Board of Directors requested. There is no question that Amtrak can use considerably more capital funding to deal with its aging infrastructure.



I do not have a complaint with the funding level for Amtrak, but as you know, Mr. Chairman, I have a big complaint with certain language that you have included in the bill that tries to insert this Subcommittee into the collective bargaining process with Amtrak’s trade unions. You and I discussed this yesterday, and we agreed to disagree on this matter. As such, I will be offering an amendment to strike the language from the bill. I will have more to say on my reasons for striking this language when I offer my amendment. I believe that we will have another amendment on Amtrak labor policy as well from Senator Byrd. That amendment will prohibit Amtrak from outsourcing any jobs overseas. I know that I and many of my colleagues want to enthusiastically support this bill. I know that I will be more enthusiastic about this bill if these Amtrak policy amendments can be adopted.



In general, Mr. Chairman, this bill is a dramatic improvement over the funding recommendations included in the President’s budget. It deserves the support of all Members. I want to thank you and your staff for all the time and effort you've put into this bill.