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Transportation Funding Bill Dies Unceremoniously in Both Chambers

A few short hours after the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a $594 billion defense spending bill, Republicans blocked the $54 billion transportation and HUD bill from coming to the floor for a vote. House Republican leadership had blocked its own THUD bill the day before.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Politico that Republicans had to quash the bill in order to “indicate we’re going to keep our word around here” -- meaning that the Republicans would adhere to the automatic budget cuts triggered when Congress couldn’t agree on a solution to the debt ceiling crisis. Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, furious that the bill had been pulled, blamed the excessive austerity of the budget they were forced to work within. He called for the end of sequestration “and its unrealistic, ill-conceived, discretionary cuts.”

McConnell, on the other hand, displayed a singleminded determination to kill the Senate transportation spending bill. “He has never worked harder against a member of his own party than he did against me today,” said Sen. Susan Collins, the sole Republican to vote in favor of considering the bill. Collins, the top Republican on the Transportation Appropriations Committee, co-wrote the bill with Chair Patty Murray. According to Politico, other Republicans were prepared to vote in favor of the bill, but “when it became obvious the bill would not meet the 60-vote threshold, she told them they should vote no.”

The Senate leaves today for a five-week August recess and when they return after Labor Day, they’ll have just nine legislative days before the end of the fiscal year.

“So where does that leave us?” Appropriations Committee Barbara Mikulski said. “What is that, are we back to gridlock?”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer was equally frustrated with the Republican block. “We're hurting the economy, we're undermining the confidence of the American people,” he said on the House floor.

Hoyer said he wasn’t in favor of his chamber’s THUD proposal, which cut 15 percent from current funding levels, but he was also irritated with Republicans in both houses for blocking votes on the bills. “Nine days from tomorrow, nine legislative days from tomorrow, we're going to have that issue of how we're going to fund government and keep it running,” he said. “In both Houses, the Republican Party has abandoned the appropriations process.”

Rogers called the House bill’s prospects in September “bleak at best, given the vote count on the passage that was apparent this afternoon.” But the prospects of these bills have always been bleak, given how different they are and how impossible it would be to conference them into one compromise piece of legislation that the president would sign. So perhaps it's no great loss. Next month, Congress will find a way to pass a continuing resolution. freezing current budget levels for yet another year.

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