The appropriations bills that Republicans are sending to the floor of the House of Representatives aren’t getting much attention, but they should – as statements of who conservatives really are and where they set their priorities.
For example, last week the appropriations committee sent to the House floor a $55.3 billion spending bill for the departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. The fiscal 2016 “T-HUD” budget included cuts to vital infrastructure investments and to programs that offer critical relief to low-income families and individuals. At a time when too many communities across the country are still struggling to combat poverty and when housing assistance is only going to one in four families who are eligible to receive it, Republicans in Congress continue their assault on the poorest Americans and on the basics we need for shared economic prosperity.
Moreover, these cuts come less than two months after the very same Republicans voted to repeal the estate tax, a move that would cost the government $14.6 billion in revenue next year and would only benefit the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans (individuals worth more than $5.43 million, or couples worth more than $10.86 million). This contrast clarifies exactly where the GOP’s priorities lie – with the economic elite, not with the American people.
The Transportation-HUD bill is just the fifth of 12 spending bills for the 2016 fiscal year, providing the starting point for the budget negotiations that will take place over the coming months. The Republican’s overall budget framework represents the lowest real level of discretionary spending in a decade.
Here are five revealing choices Republicans made in the T-HUD appropriations bill last week:
Republicans chose to continue their irrational war against passenger rail, which has already had deadly consequences this year. This legislation would provide $242 million less to Amtrak than the 2015 budget, and $1.3 billion less than what President Obama requested. While Amtrak ridership is at a record high, these cuts would make it extremely difficult to improve the awful state of the rails, including on the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor. That cut was made even after it was clear – nonsensical claims of Republicans notwithstanding – that May’s catastrophic train derailment in Philadelphia would likely have been prevented by a safety control system whose deployment by Amtrak was slowed in part due to lack of funding.
Housing Choice Vouchers
Republicans chose to do less to make affordable housing available to struggling families. The bill cuts $1.2 billion from the Housing Choice Vouchers program, which is designed to give low-income households more flexibility to find suitable housing. That cut means dire consequences for thousands of low-income families who rely on these vouchers to subsidize their homes. This amount of funding is insufficient to restore the 67,000 vouchers that were lost to the 2013 sequestration, and would leave an additional 28,000 vouchers unable to be renewed. It would also starve the program of necessary administrative funds to ensure that housing units are safe and habitable.
Republicans chose not to give a needed boost to communities left behind by today’s economic recovery. Lawmakers could have used the Choice Neighborhoods program, which has a record of success in revitalizing struggling communities through improvements to opportunities in education, housing, and private enterprise. Instead, the GOP-approved appropriations bill cuts the budget of Choice Neighborhoods by 75 percent, a level that is $230 million below what President Obama requested. That deep a cut will mean that dozens of struggling communities would receive no help at all.
Homeless Assistance Grants
Republicans chose to cut a potential lifeline out of homelessness for an estimated 40,000 families. That is the expected effect of the decision by the Appropriations Committee Republicans to nix a $295 million increase in spending for homeless assistance grants. This would be a huge setback in the nation’s fight to eradicate homelessness. The funding would have supported rapid rehousing or permanent supportive housing for families who would otherwise be in homeless shelters or on the street.
Restricting Travel to Cuba
Republicans chose to cling to a Cold War relic of a policy that has long lost its effectiveness. They managed to insert provisions into the T-HUD bill that would block new rules issued in January by the Obama administration relaxing restrictions on travel to Cuba. Specifically, the bill would place certain restrictions on flights and cruise ships going to Cuba, plus would create unnecessary burdens on those traveling to Cuba for educational, religious, or various other reasons. These measures would severely limit recent progress made in normalizing relations with the country. On the other hand, since Republicans showed little interest in investments to improve travel within the United States, not moving to make travel to Cuba easier is at least in a weird way consistent.
Isaiah J. Poole contributed to this post.