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House Appropriations Bill Maintains Unsustainable Spending

by Nan Swift / /

NTU urges all Representatives to vote “NO” on H.R. 3354, the “Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act” for fiscal year 2018. This legislation would increase spending above what is permitted under the Budget Control Act of 2011 and is disappointing to taxpayers who had hoped for a departure from politics as usual.

Despite some savings over fiscal year 2017 spending levels at specific agencies, when considered together with the earlier national security appropriations package H.R. 3354 would violate the reasonable caps set by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 by $72 billion. This sets up another government funding crisis or the sequester’s across-the-board cuts. It’s unclear how lawmakers expect to make good on promises of future spending reductions or find a solution to our rampant entitlement crisis if budgetary discipline cannot be exerted to even a modest degree.

To its credit, the appropriations package includes many essential free-market policies that NTU has long advocated, including a commonsense update to the “Deeming Rule;” restrictions on funding for implementing new cigar, sodium, trans fats, and joint employer rules; no funding for the costly fiduciary rule; and prohibitions on so-called “sue and settle” agreements and no bid contracts. NTU supports a provision to reduce wasteful spending by tasking the Office of Management and Budget with tracking undisbursed funds from grant accounts. And NTU applauds the House Rules Committee’s decision to block a change to the Export-Import Bank quorum rules, maintaining the current restriction on financing deals over $10 million.

On the other hand, repeated restrictions on the use of imported iron and steel show a troubling adherence to short-sighted protectionist policies. Despite a 25 percent cost-increase backstop, such corporate welfare provisions could still result in taxpayers - and the federal government - getting less than the best value for their funding.

Unfortunately, the laudable provisions in H.R. 3354 are not sufficient to counteract the bill’s excessive spending. It is popular knowledge that the two House appropriations packages will be coupled for consideration as a whole in the Senate - a plan that NTU supported, with the stipulation that total  spending levels would comply with BCA limits.

Still, Representatives have the opportunity to improve the underlying bill. To that end, we will consider “YES” votes on the following amendments to be the pro-taxpayer position:

  • Rooney (R-FL) and Gaetz (R-FL) Project Labor Agreement Amendments: Amd. 11 (filed as #49), Amd. 12 (filed as #31), Amd. 83 (filed as #53), Amd. 114 (filed as #42): These amendments would prohibit the use of funds for Project Labor Agreements (PLA) in federal construction contracting. By requiring the use of unionized labor, PLAs reduce competition for projects and increase costs.
  • King (R-IA) Davis-Bacon Amendments: Amd. 15 (filed as #4), Amd. 51 (filed as #6), Amd. 80 (filed as #8), Amd. 112 (filed as #9): These amendments would prohibit funding in H.R. 3354 from being used to implement, administer, or enforce prevailing wage requirements under the Davis-Bacon Act, saving considerable sums on many projects.
  • Amd. 22 (filed as #44) Mitchell (R-MI): This amendment would reduce Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) general administrative, departmental salary, and expense accounts by 10 percent, saving taxpayers $157 million.
  • Amd. 25 (filed as #85) McClintock (R-CA): This amendment would reduce spending for the Essential Air Service (EAS), saving taxpayers $150 million. Created in 1978 as a temporary transition to a free-market aviation system, the EAS persists to this day, and provides subsidies for air services in rural areas. The program funds service for dozens of facilities servicing fewer than 10 passengers per day, or are within easy driving distance of major airports. Eliminating funding for the EAS was a recommendation for deficit reduction in the 2017 “Common Ground” report, a joint NTU Foundation and U.S. Public Interest Research Group project.
  • Amd. 32 (filed as #83) Budd (R-NC)/Ellison (D-MN): This bipartisan amendment would eliminate a $900 million earmark for the upgrade of an Amtrak rail line between Newark, NJ and New York City, saving taxpayers $474 million and reallocating additional funds to other infrastructure priorities. Local infrastructure projects would be better funded by the primary users and should not be permitted to monopolize federal programs.
  • Amd. 33 (filed as #48) Brooks (R-AL): This amendment would eliminate wasteful Amtrak funding. For 46 years, taxpayers have subsidized this troubled rail company to the tune of roughly $1 billion a year. It’s time to cut the cord and end the handouts for a service many taxpayers will never use. Instead, Amtrak should continue to make the necessary internal reforms and changes to the user-model to create self-sufficient profitability.
  • Rep. Grothman (R-WI) Spending Reduction Amendments: Amd. 39 (filed as #68), Amd. 46 (filed as #69), Amd. 54 (#77), Amd. 99 (filed as #72): These amendments would reduce wasteful spending, saving taxpayers more than $500 million.

Roll call votes on the above amendments to H.R. 3354 will be included in our annual Rating of Congress. A “NO” vote on the underlying bill will be considered the pro-taxpayer position.


Part 2

As the House continues consideration of H.R. 3354, NTU urges all Representatives to vote “YES” votes on the following amendments:

  • Rooney (R-FL) and Gaetz (R-FL) Project Labor Agreement Amendments: Amd. 42 (filed as #57), Amd. 61 (filed as #161), Amd. 116 (filed as #135), Amd. 180 (filed as #67), Amd. 212 (filed as #70): These amendments would prohibit the use of funds for Project Labor Agreements (PLA) in federal construction contracting. By requiring the use of unionized labor, PLAs reduce competition for projects and increase costs.

  • King (R-IA) Davis-Bacon Amendments: Amd. 53 (filed as #15), Amd. 119 (filed as #10), Amd. 189 (filed as #7), Amd. 198 (filed as #13): These amendments would prohibit funding in H.R. 3354 from being used to implement, administer, or enforce prevailing wage requirements under the Davis-Bacon Act, saving considerable sums on many projects.

  • Amd. 32 (filed as #7) Palmer (R-AL): This amendment would eliminate funding for Diesel Emission Reduction Grants, a program cited by the Government Accountability Office as duplicative, saving taxpayers $85 million.

  • Rep. Blackburn (R-TN) Spending Reduction Amendments: Amd. 55 (filed as #12), Amd. 203 (filed as #28): These amendments would impose modest spending reductions of 1 percent across a variety of programs and agencies. During a time of record debt and looming funding crises, it is important that legislators take every opportunity now to demonstrate both the willingness and ability to rein in spending.

  • Amd. 66 (filed as #134) Grothman (R-WI): This amendment would prohibit funds from being used to implement the 2015 “Ozone Rule.” The 2015 revision has created an implementation headache for many states, now tasked with simultaneously working to enact dual standards. The costs are high for states - and localities - regardless of whether they achieve attainment. Nonattainment means lost funds for highways and other essential infrastructure projects. On the other hand, reaching attainment could require limits on new construction and manufacturing production, expensive retrofitting, and oppressive new rules. Either way, jobs and investment will go elsewhere with the rule in force.

  • Bipartisan Asset Forfeiture Amendments: Amd. 126 (filed as #70), Amd. 129 (filed as #46), Amd. 130 (filed as #67): These amendments would restrict the ability of federal agents to seize private property in the absence of criminal charges or conviction using civil asset forfeiture powers. This growing abuse should be considered a clear violation of due process protections. Too often, individuals face a costly, uphill battle to retrieve their assets, during which time they may fall behind on payroll, rent, mortgage, and other basic expenses. Civil forfeiture has clearly changed from a crime fighting program to one which unfairly ensnares innocent individuals.

  • Amd. 127 (filed as #86) Roskam (R-IL): This amendment would prohibit bonuses to the Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) until a backlog of petitions in civil asset forfeiture cases have been decided. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has recommended that DOJ return $16 million in seized funds to taxpayers, but so far DOJ has only considered a portion of those cases referred to them.

  • Amd. 169 (filed as #73) Rooney (R-FL): This amendment would reduce funding for the Institute of Education Sciences, saving taxpayers more than $195 million.

  • Amd. 170 (filed as #152) Grothman (R-WI): This amendment would reduce funding for the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) by $99 million. Despite a significantly reduced workload, down almost 50 percent since 1990, their budget has steadily increased by 15 percent. This common sense cut would bring funding better in line with the needs of the Board, necessitating better prioritization on the part of the NRLB and reducing regulatory overreach.

  • Amd. 195 (filed as #53) Posey (R-FL): This amendment would reduce the IRS’s Operations Support account, saving taxpayers $165.3 million.

  • Amd. 77 (filed as #64) Norman (R-SC): This amendment would reduce funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, saving taxpayers almost $1.9 billion.

  • Rep. Grothman (R-WI) Spending Reduction Amendments: Amd. 105 (filed as 129), Amd. 168 (filed as #151): These amendments would reduce wasteful spending, saving taxpayers more than $108 million.

  • Rep. Mitchell (R-MI) Spending Reduction Amendments: Amd. 83 (filed as #15), Amd. 133 (filed as #21), Amd. 204 (filed as #29): These amendments would reduce spending in specific accounts by 10 percent, saving taxpayers nearly $1 billion total.

  • Amd. 213 (filed as #71) Rooney (R-FL): This amendment would eliminate funding for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation Trust Fund, saving taxpayers $1 million.

Roll call votes on the above amendments to H.R. 3354 will be included in our annual Rating of Congress. A “NO” vote on the underlying bill will be considered the pro-taxpayer position.