Collins joins Dems in blasting House transportation, housing bill

She and five other Republicans joined committee Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee in approving the $54 billion measure on Thursday. The House Appropriations Committee, on a party-line vote, approved a $44 billion bill on Thursday as well. 

“Have members actually reviewed what is in the House transportation and housing bill as a result of the allocation they received?” Collins asked her GOP colleagues. “Are we to be just a rubber stamp for the bill?”

Some of Collins's colleagues agreed with her while other voted against her measure arguing that the Senate levels violate the 2011 budget law that imposed sequestration.

Collins noted the House bill cuts nearly $1 billion from the Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) program, which she called one of the most popular federal programs.  The Senate bill has $3.15 billion for the grants used by local communities, compared to $1.6 billion in the House. 

“That is an historic low for that program,” she said. “That would be devastating for economic projects across this country.”

She noted aviation programs, including for capital projects, have $800 million less in the House bill.

“I can assure that at that funding level, we will see long delays and end up paying more in the long term,” she said. 

“I do not understand why we should abandon our responsibility to do what we think is right in this area,” Collins argued. 

Collins also voted for an Energy and Water bill that passed on a bipartisan 24-6 vote.

Both bills conform to the Senate’s $1.058 trillion top-line number, which is $91 billion bigger than the House spending level.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) voted for the Energy bill but against the Transportation bill.

He argued that supporting the measure produced by the subcommittee on which he served and voting against all 11 other spending bills is consistent. 

“I voted for this bill and I don’t intend to vote for other subcommittee bills,” he said. “We want to do our job as appropriators as Sen. Collins so ably said … but we also want to follow the law.”

He said the spending bills would have to be cut to the House number unless a grand bargain reforming entitlements can be struck. At that point, some of the funds could be used to replace the sequester cuts. 

The passionate speech by Collins was echoed in the House markup of the Transportation bill where Republicans beat back attempts to restore community development funding as well as funding to transportation grants and Amtrak. 

Ranking member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) noted that GOP appropriators had joined with Democrats in 2012 to oppose the same cuts to community development on the House floor. 

“Rep. Chaffetz offered an amendment to cut the CDBG program to $2.95 billion, still $1.3 billion higher than the level in today’s bill,” Lowey noted. “Member after member on the majority side of this committee, including the subcommittee chairman, spoke out against the cut, noting how important CDBG was to cities and States across the country.”