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Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. LATHAM. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I'm pleased to present the fiscal year 2013 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill to the House.

Before we get to the bill, I'd like to take a moment to congratulate my colleague and ranking member of this subcommittee, John Olver, for his many years of service. As many of you may know, Mr. Olver is retiring at the end of this Congress. I have to say he'll be sorely missed by all of us. This is a better bill because of his relentless quest for knowledge about its programs. I thank you, John Olver, for your service, not just to this institution, but to the Nation. Thank you very, very much. You're a great, great partner. You'll be missed.

The bill before the committee today is a balanced proposal on how to allocate $51.6 million among Federal housing and transportation programs across the Nation. Continuing our commitment to reduce government spending, our allocation is almost $4 billion below fiscal year 2012 and almost $2 billion below the President's request. The bill also reflects the budget resolution that was passed by the House.

Mr. Chairman, we had to make some hard choices on funding levels for the agencies in this bill. We dedicated ourselves to this task while recognizing the serious fiscal constraints that the Nation faces. We also kept this bill largely free of authorizations, leaving that important work to the Transportation and Infrastructure and Financial Services Committees. We also rejected many new unauthorized programs that were proposed by the President. For transportation programs, this bill focuses on programs most critical to public safety and economic growth.

We fully fund FAA safety programs and provide $1 billion to advance the Next Generation of air traffic control. We also fund programs to support growth in commercial space and unmanned aerial systems, which will play key roles in keeping these U.S. industries on the global cutting edge. This bill rejects new fees on air passengers proposed by the President that would harm our economy at this time.

This bill funds highway and transit programs consistent with last year's levels but contingent upon reauthorization. Fortunately, Mr. Chairman, it appears that there's a positive movement on the transportation bill. Again this bill funds highways and transit consistent with last year's level but, again, contingent on reauthorization.

The bill cuts the Amtrak operating subsidy by $116 million below last year and does not fund the President's request for high-speed rail. However, the bill does provide $500 million in authorized funds to fix existing infrastructure on public passenger lines. This will immediately create jobs, as the CBO has scored it with an almost 80 percent outlay rate in the first year. We believe this is a better alternative to the administration's high-speed rail proposal.

For housing programs, this bill fully funds renewals of the section 8 vouchers, serving about 2.2 million families. We also provide $75 million for 10,000 new VASH vouchers. Those are for the homeless vets. We fully fund the budget request in that item. The bill matches the President's request for $8.7 billion for Project-Based Rental Assistance. The CDBG is funded at a $3.4 billion level, and HOME is funded at $1.2 billion.

I'd like to close by saying we tried to be balanced in our approach with this bill, but we did reject broad, new, unauthorized programs requested by the President. We also do not include other authorizing provisions requested by other Members out of deference to the ongoing work of both the T&I and Financial Services Committees.

I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

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Mr. LATHAM. Mr. Chairman, it takes $5 million from the DOT's Financial Management Capital account and puts it in Operations for Vehicle Safety. Let me say that there is no guarantee that DOT will use this money as the gentleman has talked about.

There's no dedication of funds here, obviously.

First, this would eliminate half of the funds the DOT has to make sure its financial systems are current. I don't need to tell anyone here how critical it is that DOT's financial systems, which govern the accurate disbursement of many billions of dollars each year, need to be kept in a good working state.

Second, this would increase the vehicle safety portion of NHTSA's operations. We're already giving this account $12 million more than last year, after it was frozen for the last 3 years straight. We simply don't need that additional increase.

Again, with these funds, there's no way to dedicate them to distracted driving.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I would urge a ``no'' vote, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. LATHAM. Before yielding to the gentleman, just let me make a quick statement here.

Just so everybody knows, the increase that's in the bill is a simple increase for inflation to pay for costs such as the GSA rent and one extra compensable workday. Transportation is important to all parts and all people in America.

I just don't think this is the right cut to make in this kind of a bill. And I think we should always keep in mind that on our allocations, we have written the total appropriation bills to the 1028 number, rather than 1047. This bill already cuts about $4 billion under last year's funding level.

So with that, I stress my opposition to the amendment, and I would gladly yield to the gentleman from Georgia.

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Mr. LATHAM. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the gentleman's amendment.

The Essential Air Service program ensures that small and rural communities have access to the national air transportation system. This program plays a key role in the economic development of many rural communities by ensuring that air service continues. Does the program need reform? Absolutely. That's why last year we capped the program to existing communities and have removed the requirement that larger and more expensive planes must be used in the program.

In addition, the authorizers instituted a $1,000 per passenger subsidy cap and limited participation in the program to communities that have more than 10 enplanements per day.

This amendment would be devastating to at least 150 rural communities. In places like Iowa, it plays an essential role as far as the economic development of those communities.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I urge defeat of the amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. LATHAM. I appreciate the intent of the amendment of the gentleman from Iowa. The gentleman introduced legislation that would require States to enact harsher penalties for reckless drivers who pass stopped school buses, and this amendment complements that legislation and, I think, sends a very, very important message.

The legislation named in memory of the little girl the gentleman spoke about from Iowa who was killed so tragically, this is extremely important, I think, to raise the profile. I would hope that the authorizing committee in conference on the highway bill would take this into consideration and act on this very provision.

As a cosponsor of the act, I commend the gentleman's effort and would accept the amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. LATHAM. Madam Chair, I must oppose the gentleman's amendment. This would not allow the Federal Railroad Administration to hire additional safety inspectors and fully implement the risk reduction program.

These investments have a proven record in reducing the number of crashes on our Nation's railways.

While we appreciate the gentleman's concern over the debt, this is an arbitrary way to budget, and it negates months of work on this committee to try and determine the proper funding levels for these different functions. The bill already cuts $4 billion from 2012, which is a very fiscally responsible level, so I would urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. LATHAM. I thank the gentleman for his hard work in this area and for his efforts on the Transportation Committee.

Commuter railroads are an extremely important mode of transportation and are critical to many of our regional economies. I would be more than happy to work with the gentleman on ways to address the PTC funding issues as we go to conference and in the future.

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Mr. LATHAM. Madam Chairwoman, I rise to oppose the gentleman's amendment.

This is a minor 1.3 percent increase over the prior year with all of the increase going to uncontrollable costs, such as additional compensable workday, rent and IT maintenance costs. Further, we've already rejected $66 million of funds for new activities requested in the President's budget.

This is also one mode where we shouldn't cut funds. The FTA staffing has increased only 19.7 percent over the last 20 years, yet FTA funding has increased by 129 percent, and the number of grants that FTA administers and oversees has increased 118 percent. I'm not sure cutting S&E funding is the right thing to do in an agency that oversees this much of the Federal funds. We're talking about 0.0005 percent, the full-time equivalent for every thousand dollars that the grants are doled out.

I thank the gentleman for his interest in reducing spending. I would say we've already cut $66 million, and I will oppose any effort to reduce FDA's oversightability.

Again, I would ask for a ``no'' vote, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. LATHAM. I rise in strong opposition to this amendment.

This program was authorized just last year. The funds that are being cut here are for safety inspectors, and we've had explosions in Iowa.

The gentleman referred to very tragic pipeline explosions elsewhere around the country. We have seen a number of these explosion incidents. We simply cannot compromise safety in this regard. It's a small increase and consistent with the authorization that was just passed by this Congress.

I can tell you from personal experience, in a little town of Alexander, about 5 miles outside of town, it's been several years ago, but a pipeline exploded, and basically we had to evacuate about a 15-mile area, and it was a huge issue. Fortunately, no one was killed in that explosion.

But I'll just say that this is a very important function and that we need to have these inspectors. We need to have a focus on pipeline safety. And so again, I would recommend a ``no'' vote on this amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. LATHAM. I'm very pleased that you've read our comments about HUD and the management problems that they've had down there. Obviously, they've got a long way to go. They are making some real strides and improvement. We worked closely with the Secretary to try and have some management involved finally.

But this amendment arbitrarily cuts S&E budgets to the 2008 levels. Just so everybody knows, we have already reduced funding by over $14 million from last year in this account. We've met the budget resolution levels and cut overall in the bill almost $4 billion from last year's appropriated levels.

While, again, we really appreciate the concern over the debt, this is really an arbitrary way to budget, unfortunately, and negates the months of work the committee has done in determining proper levels as far as funding.

But, again, I would love to have you read, again, the committee's comments because it has been an extraordinary problem at the Department. Again, they are making progress, not fast enough for any of us, and we have already, in the bill, cut $14 million from last year.

So with that, Madam Chair, I would urge a ``no'' vote.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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