House passes fourth '15 appropriations bill

The House on Tuesday passed its fourth 2015 appropriations bill that would fund the Departments of Transportation as well as Housing and Urban Development despite opposition from the Obama administration.

Passed in a 229-192 vote, the measure would provide $17 billion for the Department of Transportation and $40.3 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

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The bill, known as THUD, includes $15.7 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration and $1.4 billion for Amtrak. It would also provide $6.2 billion for Community Planning and Development programs, which would be $383 million less than the current spending level. 

Last year's THUD appropriations bill was pulled from the House floor at the last minute after it became clear it did not have the votes to pass. Enough Republicans had objected to its steep cuts to transportation programs that the GOP couldn't rely on its party to pass the measure. 

Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), the House Appropriations Transportation-Housing and Urban Development subcommittee chairman, hinted at last year's drama when opening floor debate.

"Thanks to the return of regular order, the whole House of Representatives has the opportunity for full consideration of this legislation," Latham said.

The measure overall has a $1.8 billion spending reduction from last year, due to a revenue shortfall from the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

"They had to squeeze some oversized feet into some undersized shoes, given the allocation that they had to work with," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said of the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development subcommittee.

The THUD appropriations bill was brought to the floor under an open rule, meaning that members could offer an unlimited number of amendments. In total, the House debated nearly 70 amendments. Many amendments were considered late Monday night, with some getting as little as two minutes of debate.

The House rejected cuts to Amtrak, such as Rep. Paul Broun's (R-Ga.) amendments to eliminate all $340 million in funding for Amtrak operating grants and to impose only a $34 million cut.

"Amtrak has struggled for way too long under the status quo. It's time to send them a message," Broun said.

But Latham said cutting Amtrak's operating grants would be counterproductive.

"If in fact the amendment were put in place, there could be interruptions of service in the northeast or throughout the system," Latham said.

The House late Monday night gave voice vote approval to an amendment from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to deny federal transportation funding to states whose law enforcement officers engage in racial profiling when arresting people on highways.

"Considering our country's history and increasing diversity, we are late in barring profiling at the national level," Norton said. "At the very least, federal taxpayers should not be compelled to subsidize the unconstitutional practice of profiling."

The White House said in a statement of administration policy that it "strongly opposes" the legislation, but stopped short of a veto threat. It took particular issue with what it viewed as insufficient funding for homeless assistance grants and public housing programs. 

The House has passed three other 2015 appropriations bills for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction, legislative branch and the Departments of Justice and Commerce.

The Senate has not acted yet on any appropriations bills, but is expected to start next week.

Next up on the House agenda for Wednesday will be the $20.9 billion 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill, which includes funding for nutrition assistance programs and waives nutrition standards backed by first lady Michelle Obama. The White House issued a veto threat against it, the first against a 2015 appropriations bill. 

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