Cole Remarks During Floor Consideration of H.R. 4820, The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to stand before you as we consider the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies bill for Fiscal Year 2024. I am glad that we are back at work, moving appropriations bills through the House Floor under our new Speaker. We are continuing to fulfill our constitutional duty. I would like to thank Chairwoman Granger, Ranking Member DeLauro, and my partner on this bill, Ranking Member Mike Quigley.
This bill responsibly funds our most critical transportation and housing needs, which will have a positive impact on every congressional district in the country.
At the same time, the bill meets the challenge before us to reduce spending and get our debt under control. The bill reduces spending 25% below Fiscal Year 2023 levels, with a CBO score of $65 billion. We achieve these savings through a rescission of IRS funds and by reducing billions in excessive spending.
To really compare this bill to last year, we need to be honest about what the Fiscal Year 2023 bill actually contained.
First, I would point out that last year, my Democratic friends labeled an extra $3.6 billion as emergency funding. We do not repeat that mistake this year.
Second, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill uses receipts from HUD-backed mortgages and refinancing to offset spending. In Fiscal Year 2023, this provided $10 billion to offset spending. For Fiscal Year 2024, that receipt number is down over 70%. Why – few people want to refinance at an 8 percent interest rate.
So the real level of spending in the THUD bill was $101 billion in 2023, compared to $93 billion in the bill before us today. This is a decrease of $8 billion, bringing the total slightly below the 2022 level.
Every year areas across the government we face unavoidable cost increases in some programs. I believe we need to be responsible when addressing these costs. This bill does just that, by cutting excess, removing duplication, and even trimming some programs that are, quite frankly, popular on both sides of the aisle.
But we also made sure to prioritize the core missions of DOT and HUD.
We prioritize transportation safety – on our railways, roads, and airways.
I am proud that we provide resources for the Federal Aviation Administration to hire 1,800 new air traffic controllers to backfill the retiring workforce and deploy air traffic controllers to understaffed facilities.
We also provide funding for the most critical air traffic control modernization programs. We all feel the impact of a strained air traffic control system. This bill will address some of those strains.
These investments will generate economic growth and ensure uninterrupted air service, which is critical for rural and remote communities, and metropolitan areas alike.
This bill provides $60 billion for highways and bridges through the Highway Trust Fund. These resources are directly allocated to our state departments of transportation – enabling state and local governments to collaborate on the highest priority road projects.
The bill prioritizes safety programs at the Department of Transportation (DOT) to ensure that our roads and railways are safe for freight haulers and the traveling public. The bill supports the DOT’s maritime mission with full funding for national security programs.
And we ensure a responsible safety net with housing support for our most vulnerable citizens – especially the elderly, the disabled, veterans, and the working poor. These programs are run at the local level, through public housing authorities, private landlords, and faith-based organizations.
The bill supports self-sufficiency programs so that families can move up and out of rental assistance. Our housing assistance programs should be a hand-up, not a hand-out.
I’ve heard from Members on both sides of the aisle about the importance of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), so we provide the FY23 enacted level of $3.3 billion for this program.
I am proud of the work we have done in this bill to meet our trust and treaty responsibilities to Native Americans. For years, HUD tribal programs have languished, their buying power eroded by inflation. At the same time, much of the housing on Tribal lands has deteriorated to the point of being dangerous and uninhabitable. So we have increased the Indian Housing Block Grant program to $1.1 billion, catching up to an inflation-adjusted 1998 level. While this does not make up for decades of under-investment, it is at least, a start.
The bill also increases investments in historically underfunded tribal road programs. This bill includes provisions that will scale back the Biden Administration’s regulatory overreach.
For example, we prohibit funds to implement the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule at HUD. This does nothing to impair HUD’s enforcement of the Fair Housing Act, but cuts red tape for Public Housing Authorities and other recipients of HUD funds.
The bill also bars the DOT from imposing new carbon emission reduction targets for highway projects. This would be particularly burdensome for small and rural communities.
In addition, the bill prohibits funds for drones subsidized by the Chinese government. This will safeguard our national security and create a fair playing field for American manufacturers.
These are just a few of the policy provisions in the bill that will scale back the Biden Administration’s overreach. I am pleased that we will consider several amendments that will do even more to keep a check on the excesses of this Administration.
I want to thank Members of the House for their input to this bill. We received roughly 9,000 requests and were able to meet over two-thirds of them, including community project funding for transportation infrastructure and bricks-and-mortar community development projects.
The alternative to passing this and other appropriations bills is a Continuing Resolution (CR). Let me remind all Members that a CR will serve no one well. This bill is an ideal example of why we must avoid putting the government on auto-pilot.
Under a CR, our air traffic control system would suffer delays because of staffing shortages; housing assistance would be revoked from vulnerable Americans; and spending that is no longer needed from Fiscal Year 2023 would be carried forward for another year. We must avoid that outcome.
In closing, I am very pleased that we are moving forward, and I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.