The House today will take up a $410 billion fiscal 2009 omnibus spending package that includes $40.7 billion for transportation infrastructure and $41.5 billion for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The time for passage is tight: on March 6 a continuing resolution that has kept federal agencies in operation since the fiscal year began on Oct. 1 will expire.
The action on the appropriation legislation comes as President Obama is expected to release an overview of his fiscal 2010 budget requests tomorrow.
The appropriations package, which was unveiled by Democrats on Monday, includes nine fiscal 2009 bills to fund government agencies and includes several bond-related provisions.
The package would spend $19 billion more than President George W. Bush requested last spring and would increase funding for the agencies by $31 billion over fiscal 2008 appropriations, according to documents released by the House Appropriations Committee.
Democrats put off introducing the bills until after Bush left office and they were finished with work on the economic stimulus package. Bush had threatened to veto the bills if lawmakers sought to spend more what he had requested.
Much of the proposed spending would be in addition to the stimulus and Republicans have begun to criticize it.
"The White House held a 'fiscal responsibility' summit yesterday, and tonight the president delivers an address to a joint session of Congress, in which budget restraint is expected to be a major theme," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said yesterday. "However, with Congress passing a trillion-dollar 'stimulus' spending bill less than two weeks ago and congressional Democrats coming back for another half-trillion in [today's] vote, struggling families and small businesses across the country are wondering, is this all talk and no action?"
Under the plan, HUD would receive $41.5 billion, $1 billion more than in fiscal 2008. Section 8 tenant-based housing vouchers will get $16.8 billion, $341 million more than the previous year. The bill also includes $7.1 billion, or $668 million more than in 2008, for Section 8 project-based vouchers.
Section 8 housing vouchers, which help the poor, elderly, and disabled pay for rental housing, also are used by state and local housing finance agencies to help back bonds issued to finance the construction of multifamily housing projects.
Funding for the HOPE VI program - which provides grants to public housing authorities to demolish severely distressed public housing units and replace them with mixed-use, mixed income developments - would receive $120 million, $20 million more than in fiscal 2008. The grants are often used as leverage for projects that are financed with tax-exempt bonds.
The community development block grant program would receive $3.9 billion, $34 million above fiscal 2008, to fund economic development projects. The grants can be used as a debt-service reserve or in conjunction with bonds, even if the grants play a minor role in the project's financing. The funding would be on top of the $1 billion provided by the stimulus package and $6.5 billion of disaster-relief CDBGs Congress approved in the continuing resolution.
The bill requests $90 million of federal matching grants to states for intercity passenger rail, three times the amount that was given to states in last year's appropriation. The appropriation would be in addition to the $9.3 billion that was provided for Amtrak, high-speed rail, and intercity passenger rail funding that was included in the final stimulus package.
California, Florida, and Midwestern rail routes, such as Chicago to Milwaukee, may be among the targets for omnibus rail funding, said Jack Basso, director of program finance and management for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
Under the proposal, highway infrastructure would receive $40.7 billion, or $484 million more than last year. If approved, the omnibus provisions added to stimulus funding would bring the total amount of highway appropriations so far in 2009 to about $68 billion.
The bill also would provide to the Federal Transit Administration $240.2 million more for capital grants for commuter and light rail than was appropriated last year. It would provide $493 million more than last year's appropriation for formula and bus grants for urban and rural transit systems. Airport grants, however, would remain static from last year. Another provision would eliminate Amtrak efficiency incentive grants because of poor performance on those grants. However, Amtrak is slated to receive $1.5 billion, or $165 million more than in 2008.
The District of Columbia would receive $742 million, a $132 million increase from fiscal 2008. That amount would include $35 million for college tuition support, $54 million for school improvements, and a one-time $20 million payment to improve the district's public school system.
The district's criminal justice system would receive $540 million. The city also would receive $39 million of federal funds to compensate for security costs at Obama's inauguration.