FY17 USDOT Budget Moves to House Floor; House Drops “THUD” Portion of Senate Appropriations Package

May 26, 2016

The House Appropriations Committee on May 24 approved a bill funding the U.S. Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2017 by a voice vote. But earlier today, the House voted to reject the Transportation and Housing portion of an appropriations bill passed by the Senate last week and move to a quick House-Senate conference committee on other portions of the legislation.

House drops Senate THUD provisions. Last week, the Senate on May 19 passed an appropriations package that contained three distinct divisions: the FY 2017 Transportation-HUD bill, the FY 2017 Military Construction/Veterans Affairs bill, and supplemental FY 2016 appropriations totaling $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus. All those items were passed by the Senate as one big amendment to last year’s THUD bill, H.R. 2577, and sent back to the House.

The House has already passed its own Military Construction/VA bill on May 19 (H.R. 4874) and its own stand-alone Zika funding bill (H.R. 5243) on May 19. But the House has not passed its own Transportation-HUD bill since the Appropriations Committee has not yet reported its bill.

This morning, acting on a special resolution approved by the House Rules Committee last night with short notice, the House voted, 233 to 180, to substitute new language containing the House-passed MilCon/VA and Zika bills, and a version of another House-passed bill from last year (H.R. 897) allowing expanded use of anti-mosquito pesticides, in lieu of the Senate-passed THUD/MilCon/Zika package and to request an immediate conference with the Senate.

Obviously, the Senate-passed THUD language was left out in the cold, and when the Speaker named the House conferees on H.R. 2577 a short time later, none of the House conferees came from the Transportation-Housing Subcommittee, indicating that Speaker Ryan and Appropriations chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) do not expect the conference to address matters relating to THUD.

It takes two to tango, and when the Senate appoints its own conferees, Majority Leader McConnell could, in theory, appoint conferees from the Senate THUD Subcommittee and try to negotiate a bill anyway – it would be within the “scope” of the conference since the Senate amendment provides FY 2017 THUD appropriations. But Ryan and McConnell usually agree on overall legislative strategies (like which bills to send to conference) beforehand, so it now seems more likely that the Senate THUD bill will have to wait until after the House passes its bill. And if the THUD bill no longer has the protection of riding on the filibuster-proof bill that funds veterans benefits, its fast track through Congress could get derailed.

If, however, the conference on the MilCon/VA/Zika bill drags on, and the House somehow manages to pass its own THUD bill, both chambers could easily add the THUD bill back to the scope of the MilCon/VA/Zika conference. But the House leadership has not yet announced any plans for floor consideration of the THUD bill, and there are several bills ahead of it in the queue. (And, of course, the July 15 shutdown date for Congress looms ever more near.)

House THUD markup. The May 24 markup of draft legislation by the full House Appropriations Committee went quickly (considering it was a $116 billion bill going through a 51-member committee), lasting only 106 minutes before the panel turned to another bill (and much of that time was spent rehashing the unrelated Zika virus issues that come up on every bill). The only issue relating to transportation that rose to the level of receiving a roll call vote was an amendment by Transportation-Housing subcommittee ranking minority member David Price (D-NC) to strike five funding limitation or legislative policy provisions from the USDOT title of the bill:

  • Section 132 (suspending FMCSA’s 34-hour restart rule)’
  • Section 134 (federal preemption of intrastate trucker meal and rest break rules in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals states);
  • Section 135 (suspending changes in FMCSA’s pre-FAST safety fitness ratings);
  • Section 192 (no FY17 funding for California high speed rail);
  • Section 193 (seafarer penalty wages); and
  • Section 194 (no federal funds to subsidize Amtrak food and beverage losses in FY17).

The Price amendment failed by a mostly partisan vote of 19 yeas, 28 nays.

The only amendment adopted to the Transportation title of the bill was a bipartisan managers’ amendment offered by subcommittee chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), the text of which is here, which was adopted by voice vote. The page and line numbers in the manager’s amendment refer to this version of the bill and to this version of the report. The managers amendment moves $1 million from FAA Finance and Management to FAA Commercial Space Transportation, adds a new section 195 making a tweak to the population density rules in the Lake Tahoe multi-state MPO in 49 U.S.C. §5303(r), and adds a number of new provisions of report language.

The only other transportation-related amendments offered during the markup were a Honda (D-CA) amendment directing the FAA to gather information from airlines on the numbers and causes of air carriers forcing security-screened passengers to deplane (Honda cited the Italian mathematician who was thrown off a plane for writing out a mathematical proof that looked kind of like Arabic script in his handwriting), which Honda withdrew after subcommittee chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) promised to work with him on the issue, and a Quigley (D-IL) amendment to prohibit O’Hare Airport from closing its diagonal runway until the FAA and the local aviation authority agree on a better plan to disperse low flights (and their noise) more widely, which failed on a voice vote.

The draft committee report, which was made available 24 hours before the markup, does clear up a few issues below the account-level language written into the bill itself. In particular, the House bill increases funding for vehicle safety activities at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by 22 percent over last year (an increase of $32.3 million). The report makes clear that $24 million of the increase goes to the Office of Safety Defects Investigation, $7.2 million of the increase goes to research in vehicle electronics and emerging technologies (think autonomous vehicles), and the other $3 million goes to fund a new grant program authorized by section 24105 of the FAST Act to make grants to states that use their vehicle registration process to notify vehicle owners and lessees of any open recalls on their vehicles.

With regards to the $150 million appropriation for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the ninth installment of a $1.5 billion, ten-year authorization under the 2008 PRIIA rail safety law, the House report says that “should the WMATA board endorse any effort to defer state of good repair maintenance, or move funds from safety improvements to operating expenses in order to address an operating budget shortfall, the Committee will view those budgetary shifts as a lack of commitment to the spirit in which these PRIIA funds were provided and the Committee will reconsider its financial contributions accordingly.”

With regards to the TIGER program, in the not-quite-an-earmark department, the House report says that “High growth areas are challenged by the high costs of infrastructure to support the growing economy, and often these areas must provide a local funding match that exceeds the federal requirement in order to complete transportation projects. The Committee strongly encourages the Department to take into consideration population growth, as well as the expanded port and waterways coming into operation in 2016 and beyond, and the matching funds when evaluating the impact and merit of the TIGER grant applications.”

Interestingly, the House report does not contain any sort of ringing condemnation of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s proposal to break up the Federal Aviation Administration and turn responsibility for air traffic control over to a nonprofit corporation. The committee report on the Senate bill did include such language.

Full coverage of the contents of the bill as approved in subcommittee last week is here.

A revised FAA summary table showing the change made in the House managers amendment in committee is below, and a revised table showing the budget allocations to all Appropriations subcommittees, where known, is here.

FY17House FAA-FC

Photo: smartgrowthamerica.org

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