Being an appropriator isn't what it used to be, but that won't keep some of them from touting work to include provisions in fiscal 2014 spending bills benefiting their home states — including an oft-ridiculed transit system.
Because the Senate's new top appropriator hails from just north of Washington, D.C., it should be no surprise that she's paying attention to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as part of the Transportation-HUD spending bill.
Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski praised, among other priorities, $150 million in federal funding to continue safety improvement work at Metro. That work began in response to the 2009 Red Line crash. The Maryland Democrat didn't mince words about the agency, however.
"Following the tragic Red Line crash, there was an outcry for safety," she aid in a statement Thursday. "I demanded new leadership and a new culture of safety at Metro. Today we've got new leadership, the first-ever federal safety standards for metro systems and a dedicated stream of federal funding. Yet people's patience is wearing thin. They continue to worry about riding Metro. They fear train evacuations, broken escalators, single-trackings and signal problems. Metro must show it values its riders with a sense of urgency around safety and better communication about how it's working to improve the system's operational safety and reliability."
In a release issued Friday, the Illinois senators praised inclusion of an amendment in the Energy and Water Development bill blocking the Army Corps of Engineers from moving functions from Chicago to Detroit.
The Army Corps is important to Illinois for a number of reasons, including the the fight against Asian carp, the giant invasive fish that threatens the Great Lakes ecosystem.
"Chicago is the largest city on the edge of the Great Lakes. When important decisions are made about preventing the spread of Asian carp, rehabilitating the Chicago shoreline, constructing the Deep Tunnel and dredging the local harbors, they should be made right here in Illinois," Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said. "Without an explanation from the Army Corps of Engineers about the impact of this decision on the over 200 employees in the Chicago District Office, I am strongly opposed to this proposed move."
Illinois happens to have both senators on the appropriations panel, and Durbin and his GOP colleague Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., sent a joint release praising the amendment.
Alaska's another state with two appropriators. Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich both hold seats on the panel. They offered praise for projects benefiting their home state, including continued funding for the Denali Commission, a federal agency established by Sen. Ted Stevens to address infrastructure needs in Alaska.
Senators from other states highlighted provisions in the two bills that the committee approved Thursday as well, perhaps partly why the individual bills continue to advance with bipartisan support, even if the parties cannot agree on the top-line spending level.