House Appropriators OK FY20 USDOT Budget in Drama-Free Markup

June 7, 2019

The House Appropriations Committee on June 4 approved a $87.7 billion budget for the U.S. Department of Transportation, as part of an overall Transportation-Housing appropriations bill that passed by party-line vote of 29 yeas to 21 nays.

The bill has since been reported to the House as H.R. 3163 (bill text here) and the accompanying committee report is House Report 116-107 (text here).

Despite the party-line vote, Republicans, newly in the minority, made it clear that they didn’t oppose the vast majority of the items in the bill itself. THUD Subcommittee ranking minority member Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said that subcommittee chairman David Price (D-NC) did “a remarkable job” in putting the bill together, had gone out of his way to accommodate “reasonable requests” from members on both sides of the aisle, and funded several of Diaz-Balart’s personal priorities. Rather, he said, Republicans are opposing most appropriations bills because they are premised on a fiscal 2020 discretionary spending total of $1.295 trillion, a number which has not been agreed to by the Senate or the White House.

In his opening statement, Price said that his subcommittee had accommodated more than 90 percent of the requests by committee members for areas of specific interest in the bill and that each member had been given an index card showing them how the bill reflected their personal priorities. Price emphasized the three main areas of focus he had when assembling the bill: infrastructure (broadly conceived), the protection of vulnerable populations, and resilience for communities.

Opening statements from other members were brief and tended to focus on local issues: the Hudson River Tunnel (full committee chairman Nita Lowey (D-NY)), the St. Lawrence Seaway (Marcy Kaptur (D-OH)), mass transit and accessibility (Mike Quigley (D-IL)), and the possibility of Amtrak going from Chicago to the Quad Cities (Cheri Bustos (D-IL)).

Then, Price offered a manager’s amendment that made technical corrections to the bill itself and which also added new report language in a variety of places (including a provision urging USDOT to work with state and local governments and MPOs to “identify the most efficient uses of curb space, including pick-up and drop-off zones for passengers and freight” which sounds suspiciously like the Shared-Use Mobility Zones for which former ETW Assistant Editor Greg Rogers used to proselytize). The manager’s amendment was adopted by voice vote.

Then, amazingly, there were only two substantive amendments offered, both of which were disposed of fairly quickly.

  • Womack (R-AR)/Cuellar (D-TX) amendment striking sections 133, 134 and 135 of the draft bill. Back when the GOP had the majority, they would often include policy provisions in the bill supported by the trucking industry, which Democrats would usually oppose. Now that the positions are reversed, Democrats have included three trucking policy provisions in the bill (suspending any action on petitions to overturn state meal and rest break laws, ordering the publication of FMCSA safety violation data by carriers, and prohibiting enforcement of any rule eliminating the 30 minute rest break). Reps. Womack and Cuellar proposed to strike those three provisions from the bill. Chairman Price opposed the amendment and made the argument that for the most part, the provisions were simply maintaining the status quo until the transportation authorizing committees could address these issues more thoroughly in reauthorization. The amendment failed by a vote of 22 yeas, 29 nays, with amendment cosponsor Henry Cuellar being the only member to cross party lines.
  • Simpson (R-ID) amendment striking section 192 of the draft bill. Section 192 would protect the California high-speed rail project from the efforts of the Trump Administration to cancel or claw back the federal funding given to the project in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. Simpson said that by striking section 192, the Federal Railroad Administration would be able to take the $929 million in FY 2010 funding still on-hand and unspent that had been allocated to the California project and give it to other projects. Chairman Price, in opposing the amendment, pointed out that FRA has been slow in putting out the appropriations for other grant programs made by Congress in the last three years – he alleged that FRA is “sitting on $1.3 billion” and that this meant that any suggestion that an extra $929 million reprogrammed from California would be put out quickly was unlikely. The amendment failed by a party-line vote of 21 yeas, 29 nays.

And that was it. The whole markup, from opening statement to final vote, took just over one hour, which was a far cry from some of the much lengthier markup sessions in recent years.

The Transportation-HUD bill will probably be included in the second “minibus” package of appropriations bills that the House will consider later this month.

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