Thank you, Chairman Collins.
Secretary Chao, I look forward to your testimony today. We have always had a very productive relationship with your Department, and I look forward to that relationship continuing under your leadership.
Chairman Collins, I am pleased that you are moving quickly to advance the business of this Subcommittee. It’s important to get back on track after the Administration’s decision to delay closing out the fiscal year 2017 process.
To pass all 12 appropriations bills, we will need a new budget agreement that gets beyond the $56.5 billion in non-defense discretionary cuts the Administration has proposed for 2018 and the $1.56 trillion in cuts it wants over the next ten years. We need a deal that provides essential increases to meet the needs of the nation, as well as parity between defense and non-defense discretionary spending.
We will also need the cooperation of the Administration to meet our responsibilities to the American people. President Trump’s tweet in May that “we need a good shutdown in September” and many of his budget proposals to make cuts for cuts’ sake only add anxiety, exacerbate uncertainty, and promote bad strategic decisions.
One of those bad decisions is the President’s short-sighted proposal to privatize our nation’s air traffic control system. On a bipartisan basis, this Subcommittee has worked to bolster the FAA by providing more than 100% of its budget request over the last four years, and 99% over the last decade. Our consistent investment in Operations and NextGen are showing significant benefits to the airlines and the traveling public.
Rather than maintain this trend of supporting the FAA, the Administration is proposing over $250 million in cuts. The objective of the President’s budget is clear – cut spending to undermine performance, blame government for the resulting inefficiencies, and then hand out public assets to the private sector at bargain basement prices or at no cost at all. The private sector does many things well, but it does not do everything better. In the case of Air Traffic Control, privatization will place the airlines in charge and leave rural America and smaller urban centers behind. It will also compromise access, public oversight, and safety. We have the safest, largest, and most complex air traffic control system in the world. We should not hand it over to a non-governmental entity that is not answerable to Congress or the courts. The risks are simply too great, especially when the benefits of our NextGen investments are yielding positive results.
I reviewed the rest of the Administration’s budget request, as well as the infrastructure outline that was rolled out over the last two months. Across these proposals, we see a disconnect between rhetoric and reality. The Administration talks about more money for infrastructure, but irresponsibly cuts successful and popular programs like TIGER and the transit Capital Investment Grants program.
The CIG program was just reauthorized by a Republican-controlled Congress in 2015, providing the certainty of a continued partnership between federal and local governments to address population growth and congestion challenges. And yet, projects, which meet the statutory requirements and have significant local investment, have been delayed.
I appreciate that you finally signed the Caltrain grant agreement last month. But, there are many other projects that the Committee identified in the 2017 Omnibus that have funding and will meet the requirements for a grant agreement soon. We need to have confidence that DOT will issue grants for these and future projects in accordance with the law and the directives of this Subcommittee.
I must also note that after the fanfare of “infrastructure week,” we still don’t have a real, comprehensive infrastructure plan from the Administration. So far, we have only seen massive tax incentives for private investors and states shouldering more of the burden to fix our infrastructure through so-called “devolution.” This approach won’t fix our crumbling roads, replace lead water pipes, or build new schools without placing a huge financial burden on average Americans.
Instead, we need real federal investment in our airports, bridges, transit systems, and ports in order to create jobs and strengthen our economy now and into the future. We must reverse the disappointing direction of this budget that cuts spending on infrastructure and eliminates jobs. I hope that through the 2018 appropriations process we can seriously address the infrastructure needs of this country with real investments that reduce congestion and improve our economy.
Secretary Chao, thank you again for your service and for appearing before us today. I look forward to hearing your testimony and responses to our questions.
Thank you, Chairman Collins.