(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee today slammed the Senate Republican Leadership and President Bush for blocking critical transportation and housing dollars on the eve of the busiest travel season of the year. 

"Unfortunately, the Grinch came early this year in the form of a Republican minority who put their loyalty to the President ahead of the safety of our travelers and the security of our homeowners," Murray said after the Senate Republican Leadership blocked the conference report from coming up for a vote.   

"Amtrak is poised to serve 650,000 riders just this coming holiday weekend.  And just yesterday, President Bush complained about runway congestion and airline delays.  What he failed to say is that his budget proposed to slash funding for airport capacity and cut Amtrak subsidies so severely that the railroad would be forced into bankruptcy.  Our bill restored every penny of those cuts.  And that is why the Senate Republican Leadership is refusing to allow us to send it to the President.”  

"In addition to saying 'no' to rebuilding the Minnesota bridge and ensuring the stability of Amtrak, Republicans refused to move ahead with millions in dollars for housing for the homeless, elderly and disabled- so much for the Thanksgiving spirit."

The bill – which 88 members of the Senate have already agreed to – would provide:

  • $195 million to complete the reconstruction of the collapsed I-35W Minneapolis bridge as well as an additional $1 billion to help all 50 states conduct bridge inspections and rebuild or renovate their most deficient bridges.  
  • $200 million to dramatically boost housing counseling and education efforts to help keep struggling mortgage holders in their homes
  • $75 million for additional housing vouchers for our veterans.  Just last week, it was revealed that one in every four homeless citizens are veterans; including veterans just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Murray's full remarks on the need for Republicans to stop obstructing the Transportation Housing and Urban Development spending bill follow:

Mr. President, we are about to begin one of the busiest travel seasons of the year – the week of our Thanksgiving holiday.  The millions of Americans who will take to our nation’s roads, rails, and airways probably won’t have the country’s transportation budget on their minds.

But we had them in mind as we put together this bipartisan Transportation-Housing appropriations bill and negotiated the Conference agreement before us today.

Unfortunately, the Senate Republican Leadership has now formally blocked our ability to have a vote on this Conference agreement and move it to the White House.  And that is shameful.

Our Conference report invests in rebuilding our infrastructure and modernizing our safety systems.  It spends the money needed to adequately staff our air traffic control towers and hire the safety inspectors for aircraft, pipelines, and railroads that are needed to protect us.  It rejects misguided budget cuts proposed by the White House to slash the number of safety inspectors, underfund our highway needs, and throw Amtrak into bankruptcy.

This bill also keeps faith with another American Thanksgiving tradition -- giving back to those who are less-fortunate.  It rejects the President’s proposals to slash housing funds for the elderly and the disabled and provides necessary increases to shelter the homeless and keep federally subsidized tenants in their homes.

Finally, Mr. President, this holiday, millions of families will worry that they won’t be able to keep their homes for another year.  Millions are facing foreclosure on their homes in the coming months as their mortgage payments rise to unaffordable levels.

This agreement helps address that crisis by targeting a quarter of a billion dollars to ensure these families get counseling that will allow them to stay in their homes.  We're working to stop the rising number of foreclosures and increasing despair among the millions of citizens who pursued the American dream of homeownership.

Throughout this process, I have worked closely with a very able partner, my Ranking Member, Senator Bond of Missouri.  We held numerous hearings together.  We negotiated every line of a very complicated spending bill together, and we negotiated the details of a conference report with the House together.

Senator Bond and I didn't agree on every issue or every funding level, but we continued to make compromises so that we could keep the team together press forward with our joint responsibilities.

We were able to put together an Appropriations bill that was reported by our Committee without one dissenting vote.  That bill passed the Senate with 88 votes.  We then negotiated a Conference agreement that earned the signature of every single conferee, on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of Capitol.  

I'm so proud of how well we were able to work together to get this important bill done.  This is truly a bipartisan bill.

Sadly, President Bush threatened to veto this agreement -- despite the years of neglect it seeks to reverse -- and even though it has strong bipartisan support.  The President says he opposes this bill because it spends about $3 billion more than the levels he requested for these programs back in February.

Mr. President, I think it’s unconscionable that he wants to spend $196 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – in this year alone.  Yet he refuses to invest just $3 billion on some of the basic needs of every American – transportation and housing.

And Mr. President, what's even worse is that instead of standing up for programs they believe in -- that they supported already -- the Republican Leadership here in the Senate has decided to stand in the way in order to protect President Bush from having to veto these important projects. 

The Senate Republican Leadership put their loyalty to this failed presidency above all the good this bill can do -- and above the fact that 88 members of the Senate supported it.

Clearly, when the Senate Republican Leadership calls for bipartisanship -- as they have several times since they became the Minority -- they don't necessarily mean it.  When we have a truly bipartisan agreement -- they might still kill it just to score a political point.

And that is a tragedy for the Senate and for Americans.

So, Mr. President, I think it’s important to point out why this bill spends more than the President’s request.

It’s because all the conferees – Democrats and Republicans alike refused to let our bridges and highways crumble.  They refused to go into the busiest travel week of the year by slashing funding for airports and railways.  They refused to let our families lose their homes without an opportunity to work with their lender and professional counselors to keep it.  And they refused to let our returning heroes lie homeless on the street in need of shelter and mental health services.

Now Mr. President, let me share some examples of why this bill should move forward.

Mr. President, we have all heard the stories this year about record flight delays that have disrupted people’s travel plans across the country.  Customer service complaints are at an all-time high.

Our airports and runways are now more congested than they have ever been.  And that is on a normal non-holiday week – some 27 million Americans will take to the airways this Thanksgiving.

Mr. President, we also face a huge challenge as we work to replace the thousands of air traffic controllers and safety inspectors who are scheduled to retire over the next several years.  The void they will leave threatens the safety and reliability of our airlines.

Many of our controllers are still using equipment that is two decades old or older.

But if the President had his way, we would cut funding to modernize our air traffic control system by more than $50 million. 

Well, Mr. President, not one Democratic or Republican conferee on our bill stood up for the President’s dramatic cuts in airport investment.

And no one agreed that the cutting our investment in modernized equipment was a good idea.

The President just doesn’t get it.

Just yesterday, he voiced concern about flight delays even as he continued to threaten to veto this bill.  Only someone who flies on Air Force One could make those two statements at the same time. 

Travelers will have President Bush and the Senate Republican Leadership to thank as they wait at the gate and on the runway, this holiday weekend.

Mr. President, the next is train travel.

This coming Wednesday – the day before Thanksgiving – more than 125,000 Americans will use the Amtrak system in just one day. 

Our overcrowded highways and runways aren’t able to absorb those travelers.  We have to keep up our investments in options like Amtrak, which will cut down on highway congestion and air pollution caused by cars stalled in traffic.

Yet the President proposed to decimate Amtrak’s funding, which would have thrown the railroad into certain bankruptcy. 

Well, Mr. President, all the conferees – House and Senate – Democrats and Republicans – refused to slash funding for Amtrak by nearly 40 percent – or almost $500 million.

Not one wanted to lose our nation’s passenger rail service to the President’s misguided budget priorities.

Thirdly, Mr. President, we agreed to spend more than the President requested because the conferees recognized that the millions of holiday travelers who take to the highways next week will cross over 600,000 bridges that the Federal Highway Administration has rated as “Deficient.”

Mr. President, 80,000 of those bridges have been deemed to be functionally obsolete, meaning they don’t meet today’s design standards for safety, and they’re handling traffic far beyond what they are designed for.  These are not just remote bridges in sparse parts of the country, either – 6,000 of those deficient bridges are on the National Highway System – the core network of highways that connect our major cities and towns. 

Mr. President, we still have a tragic reminder of the cost of neglecting our highways and bridges.  In the City of Minneapolis, tens of thousands of Thanksgiving travelers will be required to take alternative routes due to the collapse of Interstate 35W bridge.

This Conference report includes $195 million to help complete the reconstruction of the I-35W bridge. 

It also includes additional spending authority of $1 billion dollars from the Highway Trust Fund to allow all 50 states to beef up bridge inspections and rebuild or renovate their most deficient bridges. 

That additional spending authority came about as a result of my amendment, which passed on the floor back in early September.  I want to thank the many Republican Senators who supported me on that vote.  

Now the President’s budget was formulated and delivered to Congress before the Minneapolis tragedy.  But I just think it’s wrong that the President hasn’t altered his budget priorities one penny in the wake of that reality.

 Both sides of the aisle in Congress have heard the wake-up call on the need to address our most-critical, deteriorating infrastructure. 

Yet the President would rather spend $196 billion on the war than help our communities ensure their safety. 

Mr. President, our conference agreement also helps protect homeowners who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads.

It spends more than the President’s request because the conferees – Democrats and Republicans alike – didn’t hide from the sub-prime mortgage crisis that is threatening to destroy many middle-income communities across the nation. 

In the next two quarters, more than two million homeowners throughout the nation will see their mortgage payments rise.  Many of them will struggle or fail to meet these new, higher payments. 

 We are now seeing communities where every other home – or every third home – is being abandoned by homeowners who can’t meet their payments.  Whole communities are having their economic under-pinnings ripped from beneath them. 

Many of these near-ghost towns have been concentrated in the industrial Midwest.  But Senators must know – if something isn’t done to address this crisis soon, we will find these communities all across the country.

Our Conference agreement includes a special infusion of $200 million to boost housing counseling efforts to help keep struggling mortgage-holders in their homes. 

It’s the same level that was included in the Senate version of the bill – a 500 percent increase over the current level.

And rather than send this additional funding into the HUD bureaucracy, we have sent it out for competitive grants through the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation – a Federally-chartered corporation that specializes in this area.

Mr. President, I’m especially proud that this agreement helps protect our veterans, who – tragically – now make up a quarter of the homeless population.

Veterans Day just passed.  In the speech I delivered in my home state, I said we ought to be asking what we can do – as a community, a state, and a nation – for our veterans.

Mr. President the conferees on our Transportation-Housing bill – Democrats and Republicans alike – refused to turn their back on the realities facing our returning heroes from Iraq and Afghanistan and all past conflicts.

So our bill took one step in the right direction for our veterans.  It includes $75 million for additional housing vouchers, which provide housing assistance through HUD, as well as supportive services through the VA to help get our heroes back on their feet.

Mr. President, this isn’t the first year the President has tried to underfund our nation’s housing and transportation system. 

The cuts this Congress refused to adopt this year are the very same reckless cuts proposed by the Bush Administration in 2007, in 2006, in 2005, and every other year. 

The President has been proposing to slash funding for the CDBG Program, for elderly and disabled housing, for Amtrak, and for airports – year, after year, after year. 

This year was no different – and Congress responded the same way.

The only difference between this year and prior years is that this year President Bush is threatening to veto the bill.  And the Senate Republican Leadership is determined to protect him from having to make that hard decision.

But the American people don’t care about party politics.  They care about whether their bridges are safe enough to travel on.  They care about whether they will have to sit for hours in the airport because their flights were delayed.  They care – when they’re sitting on a train platform – about whether the train is actually going to arrive.  And they care about our homeless veterans, and the need to keep struggling mortgage-holders in their homes.

Our Conference Committee addressed those realities head on and came up with a bipartisan solution.

I only wish the Senate Republican Leadership had these concerns of the American people on their minds rather than their need to protect a misguided President who is so out of touch with the American people.

Mr. President, we learned today where bipartisanship begins and ends for the Senate Republican Leadership.  It begins with empty, insincere rhetoric on the Senate floor.  And it ends when it comes to the need to protect President Bush. 

When the American people wonder why important legislation is not passing out of the Senate, they should look at this example.  One where the Senate Republican Leadership is blocking progress on a bill that bears the signature of every Republican that worked on it -- one where the needs of the American people are thrown out the window in favor of the need to protect a failed President.