House passes funding for transportation, housing

The House late Tuesday passed the fifth of a dozen spending bills for fiscal 2016 to fund transportation and housing projects. 
Lawmakers approved the $55.3 billion measure by a razor-thin margin, 216-210, after rejecting amendments from Democrats that would have increased funding for Amtrak and the D.C. Metro, as well as doing away with a provision restricting travel to Cuba. 
All but three Democrats voted against the bill, while all but 31 Republicans voted in favor. Lawmakers could be seen gazing up at the gallery displaying their votes as the bill appeared close to failing.
The bill passed despite a “key vote” Heritage Action issued a day earlier urging House members to oppose the bill, marking a rare moment when the conservative group’s influence did not sway enough members. 
{mosads}Heritage argued the bill contained too much funding for infrastructure projects. 
“The bill assumes a highway authorization extension with funding for fiscal year (FY) 2016 at current levels, or about $51 billion in contract authority (the ability of the government to contract for work to be done),” the group wrote in a blog post
Ahead of the final vote, aides said they weren’t too concerned about the threat. 
The White House threatened to veto the legislation earlier in the week because of insufficient funding levels, capped by sequestration, and controversial policy riders that would undermine President Obama’s policy to normalize relations with Cuba, block funds for the transfer of any detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison to the United States and undo trucking regulations. 
The bill also passed despite a bitter battle over infrastructure funding, specifically for Amtrak, which has faced heavy blowback following the deadly derailment in May. 
Just hours after the crash in north Philadelphia, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee voted to slash funding to the rail service. 
Republicans allotted $1.13 billion for Amtrak, down from roughly $1.4 billion Congress approved for 2015. The sharp drop provoked heavy criticism from Democrats, who tried to boost the funding through amendments. 
But the House rebuffed an attempt from conservative Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) to reduce Amtrak’s budget even further and eliminate all funding for operating grants as well as capital and debt service grants.
Overall, the bill provides $1.5 billion more than the current 2015 level, but $9.7 billion less than President Obama’s request.
The bill would provide funding for the Highway Trust Fund, whose authorization expires again at the end of July, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration. 
Obama administration officials have blasted the bill’s funding for housing vouchers, which would get $1.2 billion less than the president requested.
That funding level, officials have said, would fail to restore nearly 70,000 vouchers lost from the 2013 sequester and would prevent the government from renewing 28,000 existing vouchers.
The lower chamber has seven remaining bills to pass by October. It has already passed bills funding military construction programs and the Department of Veterans Affairs, energy and water programs, legislative operations, as well as the Commerce and Justice Departments and science agencies. 
The transportation and housing bill passed despite the speed bump Republicans hit in 2013. 
Two years ago, the bill was in jeopardy just a few months after automatic governmentwide cuts took effect. 
House GOP leaders pulled the bill from the floor that July after being unable to attract sufficient votes. The move reinvigorated the spending debate the rest of the year, which involved a 16-day government shutdown in October and a bipartisan budget deal in December to lift spending ceilings. 
Last year’s version, though, passed with little fanfare since it adhered to the bipartisan budget deal enacted in the aftermath of the 2013 shutdown.
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