Federal Update 07/26/2013
With the August recess rapidly approaching, House and Senate
lawmakers scrambled to make progress on the fiscal year 2014
budget. This week, the Senate debated a $54 billion
Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD)
appropriations package Unable to finish action on the measure,
the chamber will continue to consider amendments into next week.
In the House, lawmakers cleared on July 24 a $512.5 billion
Defense spending bill (HR 2397).
Despite some signs of progress on the budget, neither chamber appears willing to budge on its overall discretionary spending limits for fiscal year 2014. For their part, House Republicans have elected to abide by the $967 billion spending cap set by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. Senate Democrats, on the other hand, have drafted their appropriations measures based on a $1.058 trillion spending level that exceeds the limits of the BCA and assumes that sequestration will be repealed or replaced.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has issued a blanket veto threat against the House’s fiscal year 2014 spending bills, citing the GOP’s adherence to a lower spending cap. The president is urging Republicans to work with Democrats to develop a framework that could allow for a broader budget deal.
With no agreement in sight, however, Congress is all but certain to shift its attention after the August break toward development of a stop-gap funding measure. In fact, GOP appropriators have already begun discussions on a continuing resolution that would keep the federal government operating into the new fiscal year, which begins October 1. At this point, there are still a number of uncertainties, including whether House Republicans will seek a simple extension at current funding levels (approximately $988 billion) or push for a lower spending cap of $967 billion.
On the transportation front, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) held a July 24 oversight hearing on the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, more commonly known as TIFIA. As expected, this popular loan guarantee program, which received a sizeable funding boost in MAP-21, has attracted significant interest from states. However, there is concern that demand will far outstrip funding. Accordingly, the purpose of the hearing was to discuss the status of pending applications and to explore whether the program should be authorized at higher funding levels ahead of the next highway authorization.
Notably, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Arthur Leahy were among those invited to testify. The testimony of the witnesses and an archived webcast of the hearing can be accessed here.
Across Capitol Hill, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit met on July 22 to review the financial status of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). According to Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-WI), the HTF will once again become insolvent and unable to meet its obligations starting in fiscal year 2015. In fact, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, Congress would need to raise the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon just to keep highway programs running at current levels.
The House hearing provided members of the panel with a valuable opportunity to explore how the Transportation Department would be impacted if and when the HTF can no longer meet its commitments. The testimony of the witnesses and an archived webcast of the hearing can be accessed here.
To follow is a brief update on several key fiscal year 2014 spending measures:
Transportation-Housing and Urban Development
The T-HUD Appropriations bill represents the first fiscal year 2014 spending measure considered by the full Senate. The legislation (S 1243) would provide $54 billion for programs under the purview of the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, or an increase of $2.3 billion from the fiscal year 2013-enacted level. In stark contrast to the Senate bill, the House measure would provide $44.1 billion in overall funding.
Among the most significant differences between the two spending bills is the proposed funding for the popular TIGER grant program, which is designed to support significant transportation projects. While the Senate bill would provide $550 million for TIGER grants, House appropriators have elected to zero out the program. Additionally, the House measure would rescind $237 million in fiscal year 2013 grant money.
The Senate bill also includes a new account that would provide $500 million for bridge repair and construction along critical highway corridors. The House legislation does not include such a proposal.
In the area of housing and community development, the House bill would cut a number of programs, including the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). Under the legislation, CDBG would be reduced by nearly one-half, to $1.6 million. The Senate measure, on the other hand, would boost funding for the program by roughly seven percent to $3.15 billion.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved the week of July 15 their respective fiscal year 2014 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) Appropriations bills. The House legislation would provide nearly $47.4 billion in discretionary budget authority, which is $4.9 billion less than the Senate bill (S 1329) and a $2.8 billion reduction compared to the fiscal year 2013-enacted level.
Notably, the House bill recommends $165 million for State
Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), while the Senate bill
includes $190 million for the program. While the proposed funding
is below the fiscal year 2013-enacted level of $255 million, the
president’s budget would have terminated SCAAP. CSAC is working
with the California congressional delegation and others to boost
SCAAP funding in a final fiscal year 2014 funding measure.
With regard to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, the Senate bill proposes $201 million for hiring grants. In contrast, the House bill does not include any funding for the COPS program in fiscal year 2014. The House legislation also would rescind $14 million in unobligated balances from fiscal year 2013.
It should be noted that the House measure recommends $75 million for a new hiring-related program – the Comprehensive School Safety Program – that would allow communities to hire school safety personnel, conduct school safety assessments, and fill gaps in school safety plans. The Senate bill would provide $150 million for a similar initiative. This program was first proposed in the Obama administration’s budget earlier this year and is a response to the tragic shootings that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Additionally, the Senate bill would provide $385 million for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (Byrne/JAG) program. The House measure recommends $465 million for the program; however, $75 million of the funding would be directed to the aforementioned Comprehensive School Safety Program.
On July 18, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its fiscal year 2014 Homeland Security Appropriations bill totaling $39.1 billion in discretionary spending, a reduction of $493 million from the fiscal year 2013-enacted level. Across Capitol Hill, the full House passed its bill (HR 2217) on June 6, which includes $38.9 billion in funding for the Department of Homeland Security and the programs it oversees.
Both spending measures provide $1.5 billion for state and local
preparedness grant programs, which is approximately $38 million
above last year’s funding level. It should be noted that neither
chamber included grant reforms that were proposed in the
president’s budget request. Instead, the legislation would
continue to allocate funding in the same manner as it has in
previous years to such programs as the State Homeland Security
Grant program, Operation Stonegarden, and the Urban Area Security
The House and Senate also are in agreement on the level of funding for firefighter assistance grants and Emergency Management Performance Grants, with both chambers recommending $675 million and $350 million for the respective programs. The figures are consistent with the fiscal year 2013-enacted levels.
All told, the House has approved four of its 12 fiscal year 2014 spending measures, with the Appropriations Committee advancing ten of the bills. In the Senate, although lawmakers have not yet passed any of their spending measures for next fiscal year, the Appropriations Committee has cleared eight of the bills.