Congress Faces Busy September On Spending, Debt, AVs, Aviation

Tuesday, September 5, 2017 – 9:30 a.m.

Welcome back from recess and Labor Day (particularly to those of you who were up late last night watching college football).

Congress returns to the nation’s capital today (the House at 2 p.m.; the Senate at 3 p.m.) for a busy month’s work. The House is scheduled to vote on omnibus FY 2018 appropriations, the first tranche of FY 2017 relief for areas flooded by Hurricane Harvey, and the first federal legislation regulating autonomous vehicles this week. Later this month, the House may take up legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Senate’s schedule is less clear, but both chambers face a September 30 deadline for some kind of initial fiscal 2018 appropriations legislation to be signed into law and a less fixed deadline for increasing the public debt ceiling that is somewhere around the end of the month.

FY 2018 omnibus appropriations.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet today starting at 4 p.m. to figure out an amendment process for the omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 3354). As of this writing, a staggering 972 amendments have been filed to the bill. 970 have been filed by rank-and-file members and the other 2 by the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ).

The 2 amendments from the chairman are:

  • the expected addition of the other omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 3219) that passed the House on July 27, with the bill divisions renumbered (text here), which will be added to H.R. 3354 once it passes the House (H.R. 3354 has 8 of the 12 annual appropriations bills and H.R. 3219 has the other 4 bills); and
  • a political fix (text here) filed Friday evening that gets rid of the $876 million repeal of prior year appropriations for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund that was in the Homeland Security bill as reported from committee – a no-no, post-Harvey – and offsets it with an increase in the State/Foreign Operations bill’s repeal of the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program funding provided 9 years ago in section 129 of Public Law 110-329. This has the effect of making the Homeland bill $876 million bigger and the State/FO bill $876 million smaller, so the total budget score for H.R. 3354, once H.R. 3219 is added, should look like this:

As far as the other 970 amendments go, most of them are not related to transportation and infrastructure. We have summarized the 87 relevant amendments here (many have been withdrawn or revised since our last update, so look again, and all amendments are drafted to page and line numbers in this version of H.R. 3354). The full list of all 972 amendments is here. (Confession: the proposed wall between the U.S. and Mexico may technically be infrastructure, but there were so many of those amendments we didn’t include them in our short list.)

The Rules Committee is unlikely to make amendments that increase the cost of the bill in order, and they are also unlikely to allow amendments that contain the word “Confederate,” so that should preclude a large swath of Democratic proposals. The House will consider the bill division-by-division in order, and the Transportation-HUD division of the bill will be last. The House will start debate on the omnibus bill on Wednesday afternoon and will work through Wednesday and Thursday nights in hope of a Friday vote on final passage.

FY 2017 Harvey relief, part 1 – plus debt limit?

On Sunday evening, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee filed draft legislation appropriating $7.85 billion in emergency supplemental funding for FY 2017 for relief from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. $7.4 billion is for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund and the other $450 million is for the Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loans Program.

The legislation will be considered in the House under “suspension of the rules” on Wednesday (two-thirds vote required, expedited debate, no amendments) and should have no trouble passing. This will be the first of what will undoubtedly be several installments of disaster aid similar to what Congress did after Hurricanes Katrina ($10.5 billion enacted September 2, 2005, plus another $51.8 billion enacted September 8, 2005, plus another $32.6 billion enacted December 30, 2005 to cover the whole hurricane season including Katrina).

The $7.85 billion will fit into the rest of the FY 2017 discretionary appropriations puzzle like so:

It is interesting that a 3-page stand-alone Harvey appropriations bill was introduced in  the House on Sunday night because on Sunday morning, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had the following exchange with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: let’s start with the effect of Hurricane Harvey on the nation’s finances. The White House is asking Congress for $7.8 billion in immediate aid, plus another $6.7 billion within weeks ahead of the House of Freedom caucus, Mark Meadows, says he does not want to see that disaster aid tied to a bill to raise the debt limit.

Can you guarantee him and others that that won’t happen?

MNUCHIN: No, I can’t. Quite the contrary. The president and I believe that it should be tied to the Harvey funding. Our first priority is to make sure that the state gets money. It is critical. And to do that, we need to make sure we raise the debt limit.

So, if we — if Congress appropriates the money, but I don’t have the ability to borrow more money and pay for it, we’re not going to be able to get that money to the state. So, we need to put politics aside and we’re going to be urging Congress to get both of those things done as quickly as they can.

Autonomous Vehicles Regulation.

House: House Republican leaders have set the gears in motion for a floor vote on H.R. 3388, the SELF DRIVE Act, this Wednesday, September 6 (bill text as reported is here). The vote will take place under suspension of the rules, meaning that no amendments may be offered and the bill must be passed with a 2/3 majority vote.

By and large, this is a strategic move on the part of House Republicans to avoid a situation where the bill sinks into a battle over amendments — and, more urgently, drowning in the quagmire of the looming battles over the debt ceiling and appropriations for FY18.

Senate: Meanwhile, the upper chamber is living up to its reputation as the more deliberative body of Congress. Although Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-SD) was bullish about introducing his and Sen. Gary Peters’ (D-MI) AV bill before recess, the Senate left town before it was released.

Throughout August, numerous interest groups and advocates on both sides of the AV debate met with Senate staff in a last-ditch effort to modify the bills to their taste. The most active groups were those representing city and state governments, who have long opposed the preemption language in the House version of the bill. Sources indicate that the Senate bill will also contain provisions that will preempt state laws, but only after AV developers submit a modified safety assessment letter (SAL) to NHTSA.

 Latest AV Bill News and Analysis in ETW:

◦       Sub DCCP Version, prior to E&C Amendment in Nature of a Substitute: House Panel Unanimously Approves Autonomous Vehicle Bill

◦       E&C Version, as passed: House Committee Overhauls Autonomous Vehicle Bill 12 Hours Before Markup

Also on this subject… Over recess, ETW published an initial look at what will be included USDOT’s first revision to the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy Statement (FAVP) under the Trump Administration. The article, which was updated on August 28, outlines what you can expect to see in the updates to the model state policy, guidance for manufacturers, and safety assessment letter: USDOT Preparing to Revise Obama-Era AV Policies.

Further news on the FAVP revision is expected in the next couple of weeks, with the release of the full version slated for release before the end of the month.

Aviation reauthorization.

The September 30 deadline for reauthorizing the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and the programs of the Federal Aviation Administration looms large. Legislation approved June 27 by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (H.R. 2997) that would also split up the FAA and turn air traffic control operations over to a private non-profit corporation was teed up by House leaders in July for floor action but then stalled (the GOP internal vote count was reportedly close, but not close enough).

FAA reauthorization legislation (S. 1405) approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on June 29 likewise has not yet been reported and has not moved to the Senate floor yet.

The only news (in public, at least) over the recess was the Congressional Budget Office’s revised, yet still-incomplete, score of the budgetary impact of the House bill (see analysis here).

Given that neither chamber has debated a bill yet, and that there are more pressing items on the schedule (see above), it is virtually impossible for both chambers to agree on substantive aviation legislation and get it enacted by the September 30 deadline, necessitating a short-term extension. (See the list of previous extensions here).

However, House T&I chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) would dearly love to get his bill passed by the House before an extension has to be debated – it would give his proposal some much-needed momentum and would put the onus on the Senate to try and pass its own bill.

This week on the Hill.

So far, there is only one transportation-related committee meeting scheduled for this week on Capitol Hill: a House Homeland Security Committee markup of port security and aviation security bills (Thursday, 10 a.m., room HVC-210 in the Capitol Visitors Center). The bills to be considered by the full committee include:

It was 20 years ago yesterday…

20 years ago yesterday, on September 4, 1997, Congressmen Bud Shuster (R-PA), Jim Oberstar (D-MN), Tom Petri (R-WI) and Nick Rahall (D-WV) introduced H.R. 2400, the bill that would become the landmark TEA21 surface transportation legislation. Bill text as introduced on that day is here, and the summary of the introduced version of the bill (called BESTEA) is here, For a more visual trip down memory lane, check out C-SPAN’s video of the House T&I Committee’s September 24, 1997 markup of the bill.


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