Mikulski Remarks at Full Committee Markup of THUD & LHHS Appropriations Bills

WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, participated in the Full Committee markup of the fiscal year 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) and Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) appropriations bills.
The following are Vice Chairwoman Mikulski’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“Today, we are considering the eighth and ninth bills at Full Committee.  I have heard Senators on the other side urge us to follow the process, which means spending weeks on the floor and more weeks in conference, only to send the President a bill he would veto.  We need a new budget deal that ends sequester for defense and non-defense.  On our side, we are saying let’s not waste the rest of June, July and August, only to come to a crisis point in September.  Instead, let’s come to the table now and not when we are threatened with shutdowns and showdowns.
“The bills before us today show the problems of the Republican budget.  I appreciate Chairman Collins and Ranking Member Reed working in a bipartisan and transparent way to support key programs that build infrastructure, create jobs and meet basic human needs by maintaining funding for TIGER grants, Amtrak, Federal Aviation Administration operations and the renewal of rental assistance programs.  I will support the motion to report the THUD bill.
“The bill provides $200 million for the Red and Purple Lines, creating new jobs corridors in Maryland.  The Red Line in particular will bring jobs to West Baltimore, the community where riots broke out after Freddie Gray’s death and a community where jobs and opportunity are needed most.  The bill also preserves key housing programs in Baltimore that were facing a $42 million cut.
“The bill fully funds Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) at $150 million for safety improvements, including new rail cars that meet the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) safety standards and track and signal improvements.  Even though I am extremely frustrated with Metro’s leadership, we can’t turn our back on Metro’s riders and workers.  Their safety depends on this funding, which is why I requested more stringent conditions, connecting stronger safety criteria to the funding.
“The bill includes language requiring Transportation Secretary Foxx to do three things before any Metro money can be spent.  First, Secretary Foxx must approve each expenditure.  Second, Secretary Foxx must certify Metro is making progress on implementing the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) safety and financial management recommendations.  Third, he must also determine that Metro is using money for the top safety priorities from NTSB and FTA, such as making sure new rail cars meet NTSB’s safety standards, installing protective sleeves on electrical connectors and fixing tunnel ventilation systems and radios.
 “But this bill is an example of where we have the will, but not the wallet because of sequester-based budgeting.  The real losers are America’s infrastructure needs and housing.  The bill is effectively $1.9 billion less than fiscal year 2015.  Within the bill, increases for important programs require significant decreases to other vitally important programs that meet compelling human needs.
“This bill would be better if we had a bipartisan agreement to lift the onerous sequester funding levels and with the resources in the amendment Ranking Member Reed will offer.  His amendment would allow us to meet more of our country’s infrastructure and community needs by providing $3.9 billion for aviation and rail safety, housing, lead paint abatement and transportation infrastructure.
“While I will support the motion to report the THUD bill, I will not support the motion to report the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill.  The LHHS bill before us today is about the future and how we function, funding some of our nation’s most important agencies.  It includes funding for cures, education, job training, college affordability and iconic educational institutions like Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, which are in my home state.
“The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is tasked with protecting and ensuring public health.  The Department of Education is entrusted with educating our next generation and making sure college is affordable for everyone.  The Department of Labor is not just about unions.  It runs the nation’s workforce development programs that help train people for new jobs and assist folks in getting back to work.
“The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is working to cure diseases and find new treatments.  NIH is getting a $2 billion boost, but with it comes a two percent cut to the Social Security Administration (SSA), which is in charge of making sure Americans get the benefits they deserve.  The cut in their funding means reduced field office hours open to the public, disability backlog and wait times will soar, and longer wait times for disability claim decisions.
“The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which helps seniors with Medicare benefits, also faces a 28 percent cut in program management funding.  The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) received a 20 percent cut in funding.  Because of CNCS, more than five million Americans are working to improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service.  It gets young people into underserved classrooms, helps areas recover and rebuild after natural disasters and provides military families with workforce assistance.  Significant decreases in funding for CNCS will mean less assistance for these deserving populations.
“I do want to thank Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Murray for their hard work, and appreciate them including a number of my requests, especially the increase in NIH and child care funding.  But overall, because of sequester funding levels, the bill is $3.6 billion less than last year’s bill and $14.5 billion less than the President’s request for meeting basic human needs.  It also includes the mother of all poison pill riders: defunding critical elements of the Affordable Care Act that has brought health care to 16.4 million people who were previously uninsured.
“We can’t pretend that a Presidential veto will magically solve the budget problems keeping us from moving these bills.  A veto just gets us back to the point where we are now. 
“I want to speed up the process, but to do so, Congress needs to buckle down and find a way to end sequester with a new bipartisan budget deal in the spirit of Murray-Ryan.  Until then, Members on both sides will blame the other side for the delay.  Meanwhile, nothing will be accomplished and we will inch closer and closer to crisis.”