House hikes Amtrak, community development budget (UPDATE)
By ANDREW TAYLOR
WASHINGTON (AP) – The GOP-controlled House on Friday passed legislation boosting Amtrak’s budget for updating rail lines and increasing funding for community development grants to local governments.
The $107 billion measure passed easily on a 261-163 vote, its momentum helped by increases for some programs favored by Democrats. But most Democrats still oppose the measure.
Overall, the measure cuts slightly below current levels, blending cuts to transit programs with the increases for Amtrak.
It is the sixth of the 12 annual appropriations bills to pass the House. The Senate has yet to pass any of the annual measures, which set the day-to-day budgets of federal agencies.
Friday’s measure would award a $384 million increase to Amtrak that boosts its funding to $1.8 billion. Included is a new $500 million bridge and tunnel repair program. Amtrak operating subsidies would be cut more modestly than in recent years, from Obama’s $466 million request to $350 million. Republicans noted that Amtrak’s operating loss for the current budget year is projected to drop to $345 million, $100 million below last year’s loss.
The White House has threatened a veto of the measure as part of its opposition to all 12 GOP-drafted spending bills. The administration complains that House Republicans aren’t living up to last summer’s budget pact by forcing cuts from domestic agency budgets deeper than called for in the hard-fought budget agreement.
Seventy-nine Democrats voted for the measure Friday; 55 conservative Republicans opposed it.
The boost for community development grants – which are flexible annual grants to more than 1,200 state and local governments for a variety of projects like clearing slums, revitalizing downtowns and building neighborhood centers – would still leave the $3.3 billion program more than $600 million short of the 2010 budget passed by Democrats. Republicans also largely protected housing subsidies for the poor from cuts.
Democrats objected to a GOP move to eliminate Obama’s so-called TIGER grant program funding larger-scale transportation projects on a competitive basis. The measure also denies funding for high-speed rail projects, which many critics say are going to turn out to be white elephants.
Another cut opposed by Democrats would eliminate a $150 million Obama-backed program to rehabilitate blighted housing projects.
It is unclear how many additional appropriations bills are likely to be awarded floor time besides measures funding the departments of Treasury, Agriculture and Defense. The Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a $28 billion bill funding the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency by a party-line vote; Democrats attacked the measure for being studded with dozens of policy provisions opposed by environmentalists.
The Senate has yet to debate a single one of the measures, though Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., may schedule debate on a bill funding the Commerce and Justice departments when the Senate returns from its weeklong Independence Day recess.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.