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Senate panel rolls back housing, Amtrak cuts

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 5, 2014 at 1:52 pm •  Published: June 5, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan coalition on the Senate Appropriations Committee moved Thursday to roll back House GOP-backed cuts to Amtrak, transportation projects and affordable housing projects, but pressures elsewhere in the budget may make the funding levels unsustainable as the massive $108 billion spending bill moves ahead.

The transportation and housing bill was targeted by House Republicans for $1.8 billion in cuts relative to current program levels; the Senate measure is about $2.4 billion above the House measure and more than $600 million above current spending.

The additional money — made available through bookkeeping maneuvers by Senate panel chair Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. — maintains funding for a $550 million transportation grant program that dates to President Barack Obama's 2009 stimulus bill, additional funding for rent vouchers for the poor, and allows for new resources to address the risks of shipping crude oil by rail.

A second, $51 billion bill funding the Commerce and Justice departments and space and science programs also came in above Obama's budget request, including a new program to ease a backlog of untested rape kits and improve the way law enforcement treats sexual assault victims. Additional money for NASA would keep development of a new heavy lift launch vehicle on track for a 2017 launch date.

The bills are the third and fourth of the 12 annual measures that fund the day-to-day budgets of federal agencies for the budget year beginning Oct. 1. Mikulski is trying to get the appropriations process back on track and is working hard to get Republican support for the measures.

The annual spending bills give lawmakers and interest groups opportunities for making policy that they are otherwise denied because of Congress' chronic gridlock.

On Thursday, for instance, the trucking lobby scored a major win with passage of an amendment by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to suspend some government restrictions on the hours that truckers may drive. The measure, approved by a bipartisan 21-9 vote, would block a rule that requires drivers who take a 34-hour break before starting a new 60-hour workweek to include the hours between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on two consecutive nights.

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