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GOP targets high-speed rail, transportation grants

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republicans are pushing to eliminate money for high-speed rail and a popular grant program for transportation projects.

The belt-tightening comes as the GOP-led House works on $44 billion measure covering transportation and housing programs. The legislation reflects the austere budget mandated by automatic cuts – fallout from Washington’s failure to address the deficit this spring.

Republicans also are trying to cope with stiff defense cuts by shifting money from domestic programs to the Pentagon.

The bill’s author, Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, protected air traffic controllers from furloughs that could disrupt air travel, but he dealt with a $7.7 billion cut, or 15 percent, compared with levels approved earlier this year.

The measure is $4.4 billion below current levels required under automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

Targets include “zeroing out” President Barack Obama’s $3 billion-plus request for high-speed rail programs. A Transportation Department grant program first established under Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus bill also would be eliminated, and $237 million in previously appropriated grant money would be rescinded.

Community Development Block Grants, a flexible source of money popular with local governments, would fall dramatically. Obama’s $2.8 billion request would drop to $1.6 billion.

Amtrak’s operating subsidy would decline by 21 percent, said Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., while the railroad’s capital budget would drop by $352 million from levels approved in March and more than $1.5 billion below Obama’s budget request. That would delay improvements along Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor.

Democrats warned that a deadlock between Democrats and Republicans over the bigger budget picture threatens to derail the annual appropriations process. That’s the nuts and bolts work of Congress determining the annual operating budgets for federal agencies and programs.

“A deal must be reached soon or most of this year’s appropriations bills stand no chance,” said the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Nita Lowey of New York.

While clearly unhappy with the hand the GOP’s budget has dealt him, Latham said he had made the best of a bad situation by maintaining dollars for core highway projects paid for by gasoline taxes and making sure that everyone who now receives a housing voucher will continue to receive one next year.

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