Will House Republicans take away Sandy funds after helping Harvey victims?

The $20 billion Gateway project would rebuild the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River and construct two new tubes under the Hudson River for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains so that the existing tunnels can be closed to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy.

"The Hudson River tunnel project is one of the most important infrastructure projects in the country," said Rep. Leonard Lance, R-7th Dist.

The debate over Gateway followed a 419-3 vote on legislation sponsored by Frelinghuysen, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, to approve the Hurricane Harvey aid. Frelinghuysen also sponsored the spending bill that includes the Gateway funding.

"This is not about politics," said Frelinghuysen, R-11th Dist. "The people of Texas --victims of an historic storm -- need additional federal disaster assistance.  The people of New Jersey need a safe and well-functioning transportation infrastructure. I intend to continue to fight for both."

The Gateway money would come out of several pots, including grants for rail repairs, allocated funds for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, and direct funding for the Hudson River rail tunnels and the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River.

President Donald Trump had proposed shutting off an important source of funding for Gateway by limiting the Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Program -- also known as "New Starts" -- to projects with contracts in place. Gateway is not yet at that stage.

New Jersey lawmakers are gearing up to fight the amendment, one of more than 100 that could be considered by the House this week as it debates the spending bill.

"Gateway is not merely some regional issue and stripping these funds would harm our safety, our security, to say nothing of added traffic and transit stress," said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th Dist. "There is no question that money provided to update this chokepoint is of utmost importance for our national economy."

In offering his amendment, Budd called the Gateway funding an earmark, a federal allocation for a specific project. Such spending was banned when Republicans took over the House in 2011.

Budd's proposal would divert $400 million to New Starts and allow all states to compete for funding. The rest of the money would be eliminated.

"The provision I'm trying to get rid of is a $900 million earmark, about 300 times the size of the average earmark before they were banned," Budd said. "This isn't a trivial amount of money. North Carolina and the other 48 states should not have to foot the bill for this hall of fame earmark."

Budd also cited Gov. Chris Christie's 2010 decision to cancel the Access to the Region's Core tunnel project. The governor cited federal projections of cost overruns.

Williams did not respond to requests for comment.

Ellison ran unsuccessfully for Democratic National Committee chairman with the support of two New Jersey lawmakers, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. and Bonnie Watson Coleman.

"I support restoring the funding that the Trump administration has sought to cut from the New Starts program, but I certainly oppose it coming at the expense of the Gateway project," said Watson Coleman, D-12th Dist.

Isaiah Kirshner-Breen, a spokesman for Ellison, said the lawmaker withdrew his name as a co-sponsor.

Pallone said the spending bill won't make it into law because of other provisions, including one preventing the Internal Revenue Service from enforcing the Affordable Care Act's requirement that all Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty, ensure that the legislation won't pass the Senate.

"It's almost irrelevant because the bill has no chance of ever becoming law," said Pallone, D-6th Dist. "The whole thing is a farce and a waste of time."

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