August 2, 2013

Senate Republicans kill Collins-backed transportation bill

Congress heads out of Washington this week for a five-week vacation, leaving the mess to be dealt with in the fall.

By Andrew Taylor / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Republican Sen. Susan Collins: "The numbers in our bill are not unrealistic."

AP / File photo

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Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and other Senate Democratic leaders, speak to reporters after Senate Republicans killed a $54 billion funding bill for transportation, housing and community development grants because it exceeded spending limits required under automatic budget cuts.

AP

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Congress heads out of Washington this week for a five-week vacation, leaving the mess to be dealt with in the fall. GOP leaders had sought to set up a budget showdown this summer with the need to pass legislation increasing the government's $16.7 trillion borrowing cap. But the government's better-than-expected fiscal performance has delayed that showdown into the fall.

President Barack Obama says he won't negotiate over the debt limit like he did two years ago, a promise he repeated to his House and Senate allies in closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

The situation on the House and Senate transportation measures reflects broader dysfunction in Washington over the budget. All sides want to reverse the crippling sequestration cuts, but a partisan impasse over tax increases sought by Obama and his Democratic allies and cuts to so-called mandatory programs like Medicare and food stamps demanded by Republicans shows no signs of breaking.

Cuts in the House transportation measure were made deeper by a Republican move to cut an additional $40 billion-plus from domestic programs and transfer the money to the Pentagon. That left the transportation measure $10 billion, or about 18 percent, below the Senate's bill.

Rogers, who typically is cautious in his public statements, issued an unusually harsh blast, saying halting debate on the House measure reflected a failure of Republicans to follow up on their promises to cut spending with binding legislation.

"With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago," Rogers said. He said the failed transportation and housing measure was the first major attempt by Republicans to pass an appropriations bill at levels consistent with the sequestration cuts and said the failure of the bill meant it was time for a new approach.

The White House said the failure of the House transportation bill laid bare the shortcomings of the GOP budget strategy.

"What we learned yesterday is substantively, people cannot accept the depth of these cuts," White House budget director Sylvia Burwell told reporters Thursday at a breakfast sponsored by the Wall St. Journal. "That level isn't a workable level."

"The House, Senate and White House must come together as soon as possible on a comprehensive compromise that repeals sequestration, takes the nation off this lurching path from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, reduces our deficits and debt, and provides a realistic topline discretionary spending level to fund the government in a responsible — and attainable — way," Rogers said.

On that, at least, there was agreement.

"The collapse of the partisan transportation and housing bill in the House proves that their sequestration-on-steroids bills are unworkable, and that we are going to need a bipartisan deal to replace sequestration," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chief author of the Senate bill.

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