T4America Blog

News, press releases and other updates

US House approves bill by a thin margin that makes cuts to TIGER, transit construction and passenger rail

Late Tuesday night, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass their yearly transportation spending bill with just six votes separating the bill from defeat. While the cuts to TIGER, Amtrak and New Starts transit capital programs were unfortunately approved by the House, it’s unlikely this bill will become law any time soon. That’s because of the Senate’s likely inability to pass any annual spending bills this summer due to the parties’ lack of agreement on overall funding for the government this year.

First, to the thousands of you who sent messages to your representatives in the last week, we thank you for getting engaged on this crucial issue. Though the final vote was disappointing, there’s still hope. We do know that our voices were heard, as many amendments were rejected by significant margins that would have made further cuts to these important programs — reflecting that these legislators are indeed hearing about what their constituents value.

The bad news is that the final bill approved by the House still cut $200 million for all new transit construction, slashed the TIGER competitive grant program by 80 percent, and cut Amtrak’s budget by $240 million. These programs targeted by the House for cuts are precisely the ones that cities, towns and metro regions of all sizes throughout the country are depending on to help them stay economically competitive and bring their ambitious transportation plans to fruition.

The good news is that several short-sighted amendments were roundly defeated, including some to make these above cuts worse.

Rep. Grotham (R-WI) proposed an amendment to make the New Starts cuts even deeper by stripping the bill of all transit capital construction funding ($1.9 billion), which was rejected by voice vote with strong bipartisan opposition. Rep. Emmers (R-MN) proposed an amendment to cut all of the funds used to make transit stations easier to access, boosting ridership and making the service easier and more convenient to use, like projects to improve bike and pedestrian access or support for dense, walkable development near the stops. Transit lines don’t exist in vacuums — successful lines and stations are most often surrounded by other supportive infrastructure that helps connect them to their riders. This amendment was very close, but all House Democrats were joined by 32 of their Republican colleagues to kill the amendment 212-214.

Rep. Brooks (R-AL) proposed two amendments last week to essentially strip all capital and operating funding from Amtrak, and both were defeated by more than 125 votes with strong bipartisan opposition. Rep. Session (R-TX) proposed similar amendments that were both defeated as well. These votes are another reminder of the fact that communities of all kinds — small, large, rural, urban — depend on the service provided by the nation’s passenger rail system. Their constituents certainly don’t see the existence of an affordable transportation option as a partisan issue, to say nothing of the tremendous value provided by making valuable economic connections between metro areas large and small and rural areas throughout the country.

The House’s bill now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where members are currently drafting their Transportation-HUD spending bill. We’re cautiously optimistic that at least a few of the cuts made by the House’s annual spending bill could be undone — at least partially — in the Senate. However, the only way to ensure that all of these cuts are removed and certainly the only way to increase funding over last year’s bill is for Congress to remove the poorly planned and unwise spending caps put in place by the 2011 sequestration.

One thing is certain: we’ll need your help to make that happen, and we will keep you posted as the annual transportation spending bill continues onto the Senate.

Additional insight from our policy team can be found for our logged-in T4America members below, including a full list of amendments that were voted on during Tuesday night’s debate.

Members-only content

If you are an active T4America member, please log in to read the exclusive content hidden here. There are numerous benefits to membership — join today.