Price statement at full committee markup of FY 2019 Transportation, HUD, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill
Mr. Chairman, I want to begin by once again thanking you for your efforts to accommodate the requests of Democratic members. You continue to be accessible and receptive to many of our priorities, and I have enjoyed working with you on these issues.
As you just mentioned, this year’s allocation is $71.8 billion for critical transportation, housing, and community development programs at DOT, HUD, and related agencies. This is $1.5 billion over last year’s enacted level. It allows us to build on the success of the recently enacted 2018 omnibus, which represented an important down payment to address our nation’s pressing infrastructure and housing needs.
The bill before us contains robust funding for transit and rail programs that the President’s budget sought to eliminate. It preserves the popular TIGER grant program and ensures an appropriate balance between rural and urban projects. And it contains additional budget authority for aviation, transit, and highway projects above the FAST Act authorized levels.
On the housing side of the ledger, the funding is less robust but largely locks in the increases that were included in the 2018 omnibus. Section 8 vouchers and project-based rental assistance receive funding increases to account for inflation, but these numbers may need to be revisited as we receive updated cost estimates from HUD.
I’m pleased the bill includes funding for several special voucher categories, including:
- $40 million for additional HUD-VASH vouchers for veterans,
- $390 million for Section 811 “mainstream” vouchers for the disabled, and
- $50 million to fund a new mobility demonstration project to assist low-income families find housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods.
The Public Housing Capital Fund is flat funded at $2.75 billion. While this remains far below demonstrated need, it represents a notable improvement over funding levels in recent years.
Meanwhile, important housing grant programs like Section 202 for the Elderly and Section 811 for the Disabled receive enough funding to continue existing renewals and contracts, but not enough to construct new units, which we finally got back on track in the 2018 omnibus. I hope we can return these numbers to at least the 2018 level, because the need is acute among both our elderly and disabled populations, and these programs have proved their worth in addressing this need.
Community Development Block Grants receive level funding at $3.3 billion. The HOME Investment Partnerships program, which is so often utilized as key “gap funding” in new affordable housing developments, receives $1.2 billion, a slight cut from last year’s enacted level.
We need to push these numbers higher, particularly in the context of large funding increases in the transportation title of this bill that were added very late in the drafting process. I will offer two amendments this morning to address this problem: one to restore parity between transit and highway funding, and another to increase funding for housing programs so we don’t lose ground compared to last year’s enacted levels.
Finally, I’m strongly opposed to several controversial policy riders that were attached to this bill that attack high speed rail, harm labor rights, and roll back transportation safety for the traveling public. I understand there are highway crash victims in attendance this morning. Their stories provide powerful testimony about the dangers of relaxing our transportation safety laws. I will offer an amendment to strike these objectionable provisions, which must ultimately be removed if the bill is to garner bipartisan support.
Before I close, I want to raise concerns about the overall appropriations process this year. Our bill’s robust allocation is largely the result of successful bipartisan budget negotiations that concluded earlier this year, but this collaborative approach has not been continued in determining allocations for fiscal year 2019. Chairman Diaz-Balart and I enjoy a close working relationship, a situation replicated on most subcommittees. But that contrasts markedly with the partisan exclusion we’ve seen at the full committee level.
Unlike the omnibus, House Democrats have been completely shut out of the discussions to determine how the significant increment of funding for 2019 will be allocated among the 12 appropriations bills. For weeks, we asked the majority to release the full slate of allocations so we could make informed decisions about many of our funding priorities such as public health, environmental protection, education, job training, and diplomatic and global aid programs that strengthen our national security.
At the time, we feared that our colleagues in the majority were hiding the allocations because they were going to shortchange these priorities. Unfortunately, now that we finally have the full slate of allocations before us, these fears have been confirmed. This stands in stark contrast to the bipartisan allocation process in the Senate.
Put straightforwardly, this subcommittee does not operate in a bubble. Our bill exists alongside eleven other bills, and we must consider our generous allocation in the context of damage done elsewhere. We have a major advantage compared to last year: we have a two-year budget agreement that should let us write workable bills. Yet we may be headed down that same dreary path of budgetary dysfunction and public disgust.
Everyone in this room knows how to avoid another season of showdowns and shutdowns. Instead of trying everything else first, why not do the right thing now?
Why not produce bipartisan bills that reflect bipartisan priorities across all twelve subcommittees, and then take them to the floor and pass them, on budget and on time?
Mr. Chairman, these issues go well beyond the purview of any one subcommittee. I remain hopeful that we will ultimately remedy the larger allocation issue, clean up the riders in this and other bills, and proceed to get our work done for the American people. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the weeks and months ahead.