Amendments to House 2018 Omnibus Spending Package (H.R. 3354)

Heritage Action will key vote the following amendment(s) to the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2018 [Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act of 2018] (H.R. 3354).

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on McClintock Amendment to reduce funding for the Essential Air Service Program by $150 million (#85)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would reduce funding for the Essential Air Services (EAS) program by $150 million and apply the savings to the spending reduction account.

The EAS program provides subsidies to commuter and regional airlines to increase service to rural airports that may not be economically viable absent federal subsidies. Michael Sargent, Policy Analyst in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, specifically critiques the EAS program in his report on the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016:

“Furthermore, the bill maintains the wasteful Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes rural flights that are less than half full on average and often nearly empty. This inefficient program was originally intended to be temporary and subsidizes convenience for a small group of travelers at the expense of taxpayers and the overall aviation system. It should be eliminated.”

Conservatives have long sought to eliminate, reduce or otherwise reform the EAS program as it has outgrown its original purpose and continues to grow in cost. The Congressional Budget Office identified the program in its deficit reduction options report released in December. The Government Accountability Office recommended in its annual report on duplicative government programs that Congress pursue more efficient alternatives to EAS.

While the program should be eliminated altogether (and doing so on the mandatory side would save $299 million in FY 2018), the $150 million discretionary reduction proposed in the McClintock Amendment is a good first step to reduce spending on a program that has increased 600 percent since 1996. As lawmakers struggle to reduce America’s crushing debt and deficits, eliminating this subsidy should be an easy lift.

Heritage Action supports the McClintock Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Budd Amendment to eliminate a $900 million Amtrak ‘earmark’ between Newark and New York City (#83)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) to H.R. 3354, the  fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would eliminate $900 million in specifically designated spending contained in the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill that would go directly to the Gateway project – a $29.5 billion tunnel, bridge and infrastructure project intended to improve Amtrak’s passenger rail service between Newark and New York City. Partial funding for this project comes from eliminating the wasteful Obama-era Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program.

Including $900 million in an underlying appropriations bill to the benefit of two states is not the right way to fund our nation’s infrastructure projects. The Gateway project may deserve funding, but this should be done at the state and local level, or at the very least through a fair and open legislative process. The Trump administration agrees with this perspective. In its Statement of Policy on T-HUD, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) writes:

“The Administration appreciates that the bill supports the FY 2018 Budget request to eliminate funding for TIGER Grants, given that Federal funding should not be directed to projects with localized benefits that often do not rise to the level of national or regional significance.”   

By eliminating the TIGER grant program and the Gateway Project earmark, the Budd Amendment honors both the Trump administration’s position and the spirit of the six-year commitment to ban earmarks made by congressional Republicans. This amendment would transfer $474 million from the TIGER grant program toward deficit reduction. The rest of the $900 million earmark would go into the national New Starts Account rather than a single pet project, allowing projects around the country, including the Gateway project, to secure funding in a transparent way.

Michael Sargent, Policy Analyst in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, issued the following statement:

“By eliminating the TIGER program and allocating the savings to deficit reduction, the Budd amendment will end federal funding of streetcars, pedestrian promenades, and countless other wasteful local projects, laudably allocating the savings not for more spending elsewhere (as is general practice), but to limit the fiscal burden on future generations. Furthermore, while the amendment could go further by reducing funding for Capital Investment Grants, ridding the bill of a questionably inserted earmark is good policy that will prevent the future Congressional malpractice of directing spending to politically favored projects.”

Heritage Action supports the Budd Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Grothman Amendment to reduce funding for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Housing Program by $266 million (#69)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would reduce funding for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Housing Program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by $266 million and apply the savings to the spending reduction account.

H.R. 3354 currently funds several project-based and tenant-based programs that are duplicative or inefficient, including $10 billion for the Project-Based Rental Assistance Housing Program, which the Grothman Amendment reasonably proposes to reduce by $266 million.

In its “Blueprint for Reorganization: An Analysis of Federal Departments and Agencies,” The Heritage Foundation recommends transferring housing assistance programs to the states to cut waste and better address the needs of local populations:

“Returning financial responsibility for subsidized housing programs to the states is appropriate because housing needs, availability, and costs vary significantly across states and localities, as do the levels of needed and available assistance. Instead of primarily federally funded programs that often provide substantial benefits for some while leaving others in similar circumstances with nothing, the federal government should begin transferring the responsibility for both the administration and costs of low-income housing programs to the states. States are better equipped to assess and meet the needs of their populations, given their unique economic climates and housing situations.”

State and local governments are simply better equipped to navigate local housing needs. The Grothman Amendment is consistent with the conservative principle of federalism and seeks to protect taxpayers by cutting wasteful programs. A dose of fiscal restraint in our current legislative environment deserves the support of all Republicans.  

Heritage Action supports the Grothman Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Norman Amendment to cut EPA funding (#64)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would reduce total appropriations to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by $1,869,087,000.

The cuts proposed in the Norman Amendment align with the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal for the EPA. Diana Katz, Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy, Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation wrote about the plan (which amounts to a “24 percent proposed cut to the EPA’s $8 billion budget”) shortly before its submission:

“In many respects, the need for an overhaul of the EPA has never been greater. The nation’s primary environmental statutes are woefully outdated and do not reflect current conditions. EPA officials routinely ignore regulatory costs, exaggerate benefits, and breach legislative and constitutional boundaries.”

The EPA is in a position to make this turnaround a reality. Heritage Action supported current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s nomination earlier this year. Pruitt and the Trump administration have already taken positive steps forward on the regulatory side, including rolling back an Obama administration overreach known as the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule.  

Nicolas Loris, Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy, Center for Free Markets and Regulatory Reform at The Heritage Foundation summarized priorities on the funding side:

“Cutting the EPA’s budget does not mean a world of unchecked polluters and environmental degradation in America. Tightening the agency’s purse will rein in the EPA’s heavy-handed, unilateral reach into the economy.”

The Norman Amendment would help restore the EPA to its role as a regulatory agency, not an environmental left-wing activist organization.

Heritage Action supports the Norman Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Key Vote Alert: “YES” on Palmer Amendment to prohibit funding for D.C.’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act (#33)

The House will vote on an amendment offered by Reps. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) to H.R. 3354, the fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending measure. The amendment would prohibit funding to implement the D.C. Reproductive Health Non Discrimination Amendment Act (RHNDA).

As Heritage Action previously noted following RHNDA’s passage, the D.C. law would force pro-life employers in the District of Columbia to cover elective, surgical abortions in their health plans. The D.C. city council later amended RHNDA to clarify that the language should “not be construed to require an employer to provide insurance coverage related to a reproductive health decision.”

This clarification, however, is insufficient in addressing concerns because the act could still force religious and pro-life employers opposed to abortion to hire openly pro-choice employees. For private organizations to be required to hire someone with a viewpoint diametrically opposed to their core principles is a serious infringement on the right of free association.

The Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson, William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy, and Sarah Torre, Visiting Fellow, Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, explain: “[r]ather than tinker with the legislation after the fact, the city should have never passed such a legally suspect law in the first place.”

RHNDA passed the D.C. city council in January of 2015. Following initial approval by the mayor, Heritage Action supported a congressional resolution of disapproval under the D.C. Home Rule to nullify the act. Despite passing the House, this push ultimately failed and the timeframe to outright nullify RHNDA under the Home Rule has since expired.

Fortunately, Congress remains within its constitutional authority to prohibit funding to implement RHNDA. This is exactly what the Palmer Amendment proposes. The Heritage Foundation explains:

“Congress has a special responsibility to protect the freedom of the people of the District of Columbia because of the power delegated to Congress by the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever over such District”. Congress should, therefore, displace the effects of RHNDA…by appropriate provisions in the federal DC Appropriations Act to the extent necessary to protect religious liberty and the exercise of conscience.”

Failure to act on RHNDA would further embolden D.C. city council’s extreme political agenda, which continues to threaten pro-life organizations based in the District of Columbia and the religious liberty of all Americans.

Heritage Action supports the Palmer Amendment and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Amendments relating to the Davis-Bacon Act and Project Labor Agreements

The Heritage Foundation has long opposed Davis-Bacon prevailing wage provisions, which “inflate federal construction costs by approximately 10 percent.” Similarly, Heritage notes that PLAs raise “the cost of public construction projects by 12 to 18 percent.” Heritage Action expects multiple amendments to suspend or otherwise eliminate the Davis-Bacon Act or Project Labor Agreements. Heritage Action encourages  lawmakers to support all those amendments and intends to add one Davis-Bacon vote and one PLA vote to the scorecard.