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Rep. Obey mounts challenge to bust budget 'firewalls.' (David Obey)

Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) led the first successful challenge on NLC's highest priority--setting new federal budget priorities to reinvest in America--when the House passed his amendment on July 9 to take $400 million in foreign aid and transfer it into reinvestment in community transportation programs.

The amendment, if signed into law, is projected to leverage nearly $2.4 billion in federal surface transportation projects in cities and towns, producing some 150,000 jobs in communities.

The House adopted the Obey amendment on a 213-190 vote, despite a veto threat by the White House, claiming that the amendment violates the 1990 budget agreement. The Senate Appropriations Committee expects to take up the bill, HR 5518, as early as this week.

NLC President Glenda Hood thanked Obey for his leadership and urged all local leaders to call on their Senators in support of Obey's efforts:

"This was a critical first step towards tearing down obsolete federal spending priorities and opening the door to reshaping and rebuilding our own nation. Mr. Obey paid for this amendment--not by borrowing, but by sending more of our tax dollars back to our communities instead of overseas.

"This is a critical step in halting federal disinvestment and changing the federal agenda to reflect the interests of the people of our communities. I hope every municipal leader will join me in calling on the Senate to follow suit."

The amendment became critical as the promises of the President and the Congress of last December when the new Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) was enacted faded. While the new law had promised significant increases in federal surface transportation infrastructure paid for by federal gas taxes, both the President and House Appropriations Committee had proposed spending levels far below last December's commitments.

When the surface transportation funding bill came before the full House, it proposed $5 billion less in funding for highways and public transportation next year than the new law, including about $1.4 billion less in public transportation and $3.6 billion in highway funding. The bill proposed an 11 percent cut in the Section 9 urban capital formula grants program for transit and a 10 percent cut in operating assistance.

Rep. Obey, decided to challenge the 1990 budget agreement.

That agreement created firewalls to prevent any defense or foreign aid savings from being reinvested in domestic programs. Under the agreement, the federal government is schedule to reduce investment in domestic America next year by $6.7 billion.

But Obey, who chairs the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, proposed to take savings from cuts his committee had made in foreign aid:

"The problem right now is that we are confronted with a dying economy here at home; we need to do something other than provide unemployment compensation."
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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jul 20, 1992
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