Senate rejects motion to reduce Transportation spending bill to sequester levels

“We must not approve a fiscally irresponsible funding measure that breaks the law, spends too much and puts us even further in debt,” Toomey said. “Instead of more overspending, Congress should stay within the budget limits, which both sides supported and President Obama signed into law.”

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His motion to recommit would have sent the bill back to the Appropriations Committee and directed the committee to reduce the spending levels to $45.4 billion — which is below sequestration spending levels under the Budget Control Act.

There is a $91 billion difference in spending levels between the House and Senate appropriations this year. For the THUD bill, the difference is $10 billion — setting up the potential for a challenging conference committee. The Senate bill is  $54 billion, while the House has a $44 billion bill, which is a cut of $7 billion from last year’s spending level.

The House Republican bill cuts the Community Development Block Grant program and high-speed rail projects, while Senate Democrats maintain most existing funding for those programs.

The Senate bill would also prohibit the Federal Aviation Administration from using rules on domestic drones, limits Amtrak employee overtime and requires the Department of Transportation to notify Congress of grants it issues.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking member on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees THUD, said she couldn’t support Toomey’s motion because it was “a blunt approach,” and it’s still unclear what the final spending level would be until the amendment process is complete on the bill. She also said the difference in spending could be made in other appropriations bills.

“I commend Sen. Toomey’s goal of ensuring that fiscal year 2014 spending levels comply with the Budget Control Act spending caps, but I don’t believe this is the right approach,” Collins said ahead of the vote. “If at the end of the fiscal year, we find that the appropriations bills that have been passed exceed the statutory cap in the Budget Control Act, then we should reopen the process and reallocate the funds across each of the subcommittees.

“How can we say the cap is breached when it’s the very first appropriations bill before us?”

Democrats chose to debate the THUD appropriations bill first to highlight the stark spending difference between the two chambers, in an effort to push Republicans into a budget conference committee. 

Senate Democrats have requested a budget conference 17 times, but Republicans have objected. Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who also chairs the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the THUD bill, said that if the two chambers were able to work out their spending difference in a budget conference that the appropriations bills would stand a better chance of passing.

“I am happy to have this debate. I just don’t think this bill is the place to do it,” Murray said. “If the senator from Pennsylvania and others wants to start a debate and negotiation between the Senate Budget and the House Budget, they should stop objecting to us going to a bipartisan budget conference.”

The Budget Control Act sets the spending level for fiscal year 2014 at $967 billion, but Democrats are appropriating bills with a top-line of more than $1 trillion — the same amount that was passed in the Senate budget resolution earlier this year.

The Senate has been working on the THUD bill all week and is expected to continue to vote on amendments next week.

Earlier Thursday, Murray passed four amendments en bloc. Descriptions of the amendments follow:

- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) amendment 1756, saying any report required to be submitted by a federal agency to Senate and House Appropriations Committees under this act shall be posted on the public website of that agency upon receipt by the committee.

- Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) amendment 1785, expressing the sense of Congress that should a vacancy occur in the position of inspector general of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the president should act expeditiously to nominate a person to fill the position on a permanent basis and should wait no more than 210 days to nominate a person to serve in this position in the event of a vacancy.

- Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) amendment 1789, requiring the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration to evaluate existing regulations governing the use of locomotive horns at highway-rail grade crossings to determine whether such regulations should be revised; and submit a report to Congress no later than 180 days after the date of the enactment that contains the results of the evaluation.

- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) amendment 1803, requiring more transparency and oversight of Department of Transportation and FAA cybersecurity spending.

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