The House Republican majority and its tough line on federal spending will put pressure on the chamber’s transportation funding recommendations for fiscal year 2024, a senior GOP appropriator says.  

Republican lawmakers are at least weeks away from announcing their fiscal year 2024 recommendations for the Dept. of Transportation and other federal programs.

But in an April 20 hearing, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who chairs the appropriations subcommittee overseeing DOT, told Secretary Pete Buttigieg the department is likely to be unhappy with the number that eventually emerges from the committee.

(View video of hearing here.)

Cole said, “We don’t have our final [allocation] number yet, so it may be better than you think, it may be just as bad as you think or it could be worse than you think.”

He added, “The one thing that I will guarantee [is] you won’t be happy with it, whatever it is.”

Cole was referring to the full Appropriations Committee's announcement of discretionary spending allotments for its 12 subcommittees, each of which is responsible for one or more federal department or agency.

Those allocations traditionally kick off the generally annual appropriations process.

Cole noted the “extraordinary” level of overall inflation and the negative impact on taxpayers of Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes. He also criticized last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.

Cole said high inflation is “the consequence of overspending" and warned that "we’re going to do something about that."

Apparent Agreement on Safety Programs

Even so, the overall tone of the hearing was cordial. And Cole told Buttigieg that Republicans would work with DOT on 2024 funding levels–“particularly in the safety areas.” Cole added, “We share your concerns and appreciate your efforts in that regard.”

Cole pointed to recent freight rail derailments, motor vehicle fatalities, which have been on the rise, and “close calls” of airliners.

He said,” I want to work with my colleagues to provide the appropriate level of support to DOT programs that ensure the safety of our skies, roads and railroads.

Moreover, in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, appropriators are likely to produce DOT funding levels for 2024 hat look much more like the ones the department has proposed.

For GOP: No "Autopilot" for DOT Spending

In his opening remarks, Cole noted that DOT’s 2024 budget request included $27.9 billion in discretionary funds– plus $36.8 billion in advance appropriations from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and about $80 billion for highways and transit from the Highway Trust Fund.

Cole said, “Let me be clear, these appropriations are under the jurisdiction of this committee.” He added, “We will not be treating these large amounts of taxpayer dollars as if they are on autopilot.”

He also indicated the importance of addressing transportation needs in rural areas and of tribal governments.

Buttigieg: IIJA Update

Buttigieg also outlined progress made in delivering on DOT's share of the $1.1-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. He said that since the measure's November 2021 enactment, DOT has announced more than $200 billion in IIJA funding for about transportation projects.

Buttigieg also said repairs have begun on 4,600 bridges and nearly 70,000 miles of roads and highways have been upgraded.

 He said, "Our transportation system is at a turning point,” Buttigieg said. “We’re finally in the process of renewing its physical foundations, but we’re also grappling with serious vulnerabilities that pose a real danger to workers, families and communities."