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U.S. lawmakers fight White House transportation budget cut plan
July 13, 2017 / 9:01 PM / in 6 days

U.S. lawmakers fight White House transportation budget cut plan

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 7, 2017.Aaron P. Bernstein

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House plan to cut transportation spending, privatize air traffic control and scrap long-distance train service is facing strong resistance in Congress .

In May, the Trump administration proposed cutting discretionary U.S. Transportation Department spending by 12.7 percent, or $2.4 billion to $16.2 billion.

A House of Representatives Appropriations Committee panel this week approved $17.8 billion in discretionary spending, $1.5 billion above the White House request.

On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao addressed a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican who chairs the panel, said she was disappointed in many proposed cuts.

The House panel rejected a White House plan to end subsidies for Amtrak to operate long-distance train service, which would have cut $630 million of $1.4 billion in annual government support for passenger rail service. The panel also rejected a plan to eliminate $150 million in annual subsidies for commercial air service to rural airports.

Many lawmakers also opposed the administration's proposal to privatize the air traffic control system.

In June, the Senate Commerce Committee approved proposed changes in Federal Aviation Administration policies. But unlike a House panel, it did not back spinning off air traffic control. The House will vote on the privatization plan as soon as next week.

President Donald Trump says the move would modernize air traffic control and lower flying costs. The proposal has drawn fire from private plane owners and rural airports. Critics say it would hand control of an important service to special interests and big airlines.

Chao said the administration is working to address general aviation concerns. American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O), United Airlines (UAL.N) and Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) back the proposal.

The Trump budget plan would cut $206 billion in infrastructure spending over 10 years, including $96 billion in planned highway trust fund spending.

At the same time, the White House is proposing $200 billion in government funding over 10 years as part of a goal of getting $1 trillion in public and private infrastructure spending and plans to unveil details this fall.

Chao acknowledged Thursday the highway trust funds must be made up and said the administration is studying other options including a mileage tax. Asked if Trump is considering a gasoline tax hike, Chao said: "Nothing is off the table."

A House panel also rejected this week the Trump administration plan to raise airline passenger security fees by $1 to $6.60 per one-way trip, which would generate $530 million for the Transportation Safety Administration.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio

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