Thursday, June 27, 2013

Appropriations bills advance in both chambers

by Liza Getsinger, National Housing Conference

Today the House and Senate full appropriations committees approved FY14 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) spending bills, setting up what may be a heated summer showdown over domestic discretionary spending. The two bills approved are far apart both in spending levels and priorities. If the two chambers do not pass THUD bills and engage around the specifics, we may well end up with another continuing resolution, which could end up being almost as damaging for HUD programs as the House bill.

The Senate, faced with a tight schedule due to a pending immigration bill vote, approved 19-5 a $54 billion FY14 THUD appropriation bill. Chairwoman Rep. Mikulski (D-Md.) offered opening remarks in support of the bipartisan effort highlighting her particular support of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, and housing assistance for the elderly, disabled, and homeless. Vice Chairman Rep. Shelby (R-Ala.) voiced his strong opposition for the bill, remarking that the overall allocation level was higher than current law allows and thus making it impossible for him to support the bill in its current form. THUD Subcommittee Chair Sen. Murray (D-Wash.) drew distinctions between the House and Senate bills by lauding the strong allocation that paved the way for spending on valuable housing and community development programs. Ranking member Sen. Collins (R-Maine), broke from the party line to challenge Republican committee members to think critically about the important social and infrastructure investments the bills supports. She urged them to not just be a “rubber stamp for the House.” She went on to acknowledge that the Senate bill was just a starting point and that additional cuts will be needed in order to pass a full bill.

On the House side, a more spirited debate emerged over the merits of HUD programs that provide valuable housing and community development assistance to millions of Americans. Democratic members offered amendments on increased CDBG funding and eliminating sequester cuts both which failed on party-line votes. Rep. Lee (D-CA) was successful in adding two amendments, one that adds $3 million to the Housing Opportunities for Persons with Aids (HOPWA) account and one adds bill language expressing a “sense of Congress” that legislation should not be passed that “increases poverty in the U.S.” Ranking Member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a vocal opponent of the bill in subcommittee continued to voice her objection over the unacceptable allocation levels. She was joined by her Democratic committee colleagues Rep. Serrano (D-N.Y.), Rep. Price (D-N.C.), Rep. McCollum (D-Minn.), Rep. Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), and several others in voicing strong opposition to the bill in its current form. The bill was approved by the full committee on a vote of 28-20.

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