Senate Struggles with FY2014 T-HUD Appropriations Bill

Senate Struggles with FY2014 T-HUD Appropriations Bill

The Senate kept the appropriations bill that funds the Department of Transportation and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) alive today, but its ultimate fate remains up in the air.

The Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) bill is the first FY2014 appropriations bill to reach the Senate floor for debate and is heralding debates to come.  The Senate Budget Resolution provided substantially more funding ($91 billion) for the Appropriations Committee to spend in its 12 regular FY2014 appropriations bills than its House equivalent.  The fundamental difference is between Republicans and Democrats over how to deal with the deficit — by cutting spending only (the Republican approach) or by a combination of spending cuts and tax increases (the Democratic approach). 

The Senate version of the T-HUD bill allows $17.01 million for AST, which is part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which in turn is part of DOT. That’s a million more than the Obama Administration’s request of $16.01 million.  By contrast, the House Appropriations Committee would reduce the AST budget to $14.16 million, a cut that Bigelow Aerospace’s Mike Gold characterized as “crippling.”

Senate Republicans are grappling with the consequences of sticking to the steep cuts being put forward by their House counterparts versus going along with the more generous allocations in the Democratic controlled Senate.   A sufficient number of Senate Republicans (19) voted to allow the T-HUD bill to come to the floor for consideration and today a vote that would have sent the bill back to committee failed 56-42.  The bill will need 60 votes to pass when debate resumes next week, however.   The Senate currently has 52 Democrats, 2 independents who usually vote with Democrats, and 46 Republicans.

Senate Appropriations Committee chair Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) told The Hill newspaper that she was not certain that she had the 60 votes needed to pass the bill, a sentiment echoed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the top Republican on the T-HUD subcommittee.  The fate of the T-HUD bill could be a harbinger for what lies ahead on other appropriations bills in the Senate, including the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that includes NASA and NOAA.

Even if the T-HUD bill passes the Senate with its $54 billion intact, that amount is $10 billion more than the House version of the bill.  Reaching compromise between the two will be very difficult.

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