Last week Steve Chabot U.S. Rep. (R-Ohio) added an amendment to the annual appropriations bill to prohibit federal spending on the Cincinnati streetcar. Most news organizations begin with something like News 5's headline "Chabot amendment would strip streetcar of funds". Misleading and lazy journalism.
Here is what I found out from a D.C transportation wonk: Most people and news services, at least in Cincinnati, are confusing two separate bills. One is the transportation bill and the other is the appropriations bill, which funds the transportation department. Chabot added his amendment to the appropriations bill and he would need to keep inserting it into every appropriations bill in the future.
What the full Congress did pass is a new surface transportation authorization bill, which is wholly different from an annual appropriations bill. Authorizations are multi-year bills (historically 5, though this one is only 2 thanks to everybody's unwillingness to generate any more revenue) which give DOT and its agencies authority to operate, set regulations and spend money. Appropriations bills are annual and simply set how much money an agency gets for that year and might include some restrictions for how that year's money can be spent.
So, what my policy wonk buddy told me is,
... the Senate has not passed a parallel appropriations bill, meaning that the House bill and its Cincy Streetcar amendment is currently meaningless."He added,
"If, somehow, it (Chabot's amendment) does make it in, as I understand it, Obama has threatened to veto because DOT, FTA, LaHood & Obama admin have already invested political and financial capital in the project. I don't think there's a whole lot to worry about. There's a lot of confusion between the re-authorization and appropriations bills which Cincy media has fallen prey to and Chabot is taking advantage of it to burnish his anti rail credentials for November."
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