Bike Trail Funding Survives 583 Amendments

Bet you weren’t expecting to hear any good news from the floor of the House today, were you? Turns out not everyone in Congress is as axe-happy as some high-profile Republicans. For example, Amtrak survived one attempt to cut all its funding and another to cut $447 million. (Amtrak funding does stand to lose $224 million in cuts already included in HR 1, the budget bill for the rest of FY2011.)

A bike/ped trail in Binghamton, NY funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Over the weekend, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy sent out a pre-emptive action alert, afraid that any spending-cut frenzy would inevitably end up targeting the always vulnerable “transportation enhancements” program that funds bike/ped projects. RTC feared Safe Routes to School and other trail funding would lose out too.

“We knew there was going to be this open amendment process with hundreds of amendments flying around,” said RTC’s policy VP Kevin Mills. “And with some people critical of these core programs, we were on alert.”

You can take your hands off your eyes now – it’s not as bad as they feared.

No amendment directly targeted the transportation enhancements program. An amendment that would cut funding for the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, which funds some trails, was defeated by a “nail-biting” 213-216 vote, with 32 Republicans voting against the cuts.

It’s not all good news, of course. The House has passed lots of Republican amendments to cut even deeper than the proposed bill allowed, while restricting Democratic amendments to restore funding by insisting that any funding added back in had to be taken out somewhere else.

For example, leadership rejected an amendment to restore funding to the metro system in the nation’s capital, which the CR proposes to starve of its annual federal payment of $150 million. Other amendments to restore funding for transit and the TIFIA loan program were refused a vote.

Meanwhile, the underlying bill includes $430 million in cuts to the New Starts program, which funds new transit construction, and rescinds $300 million in unspent funds from 2010. The high-speed rail program is completely eliminated. So is TIGER. And a successful amendment targeting President Obama’s “czars” caught the White House Office of Urban Affairs in the crossfire, cutting funding for the director position, which has been vacant since last May anyway.

The House is expected to finish voting on amendments and take a final vote on the bill sometime today. Lawmakers will be in their districts all next week for President’s Day recess, and when they come back, there will be a showdown between the House and the Senate on these spending cuts. Of course, nothing gets through the Senate easily these days, either, with a 53/47 party split and a 60-vote requirement to break a filibuster. But Senate leadership is promising to put up a fight against the House budget bill. And President Obama is threatening to veto a bill that includes cuts as deep as the ones in the House budget bill.