House Appropriators Release Text of FY17 USDOT Spending Bill

May 17, 2016 – 12:10 p.m.

The House Appropriations Committee has released the draft “chairman’s mark” version of the panel’s fiscal year 2017 Transportation and Housing appropriations bill and the text is here. The Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing Appropriations is scheduled to mark up the bill at 11:30 Wednesday morning in room 2358-A Rayburn.

Big Picture. The bill’s net total of discretionary budget authority – the amount that is subject to the annual spending caps in the Budget Control Act – is $58.2 billion. This is $1.7 billion more than the Senate bill’s $56.5 billion. However, the key difference between the House and Senate bills is that the House bill does not rescind any highway contract authority, whereas the Senate bill rescinds $2.2 billion of unobligated highway balances held by states. (The President proposed a $2.4 billion rescission). When the rescission is discounted, the total appropriations in the House bill are almost $500 million less than the Senate bill.

Most of those differences are in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The gross total appropriations for the Department of Transportation are only $16 million apart in the House and Senate bills (a difference of less than one-tenth of one percent in the aggregate) – both bills provide a gross total of $19.3 billion for USDOT.

As usual, only five budget accounts (actually six, but you have to combine the two Amtrak accounts into one in order to compare this year to prior years) together comprise over 90 percent of total discretionary spending at USDOT. The House bill funds TIGER grants at $450 million, FAA Operations and FAA Facilities and Equipment at the President’s requested levels of $9.994 billion and $2.838 billion, respectively, and gives grants to Amtrak totaling $1.420 billion. The big winner in the House bill is the grant program for new subways, light rail and BRT systems (FTA Capital Investment Grants), which gets an even $2.500 billion. The following table compares the House levels to the Senate bill and the past three years.


(We have posted a graphic chart and table which shows those five appropriations areas over the last ten fiscal years, which is online here.)

Big Picture vs. the Administration. The Administration makes it difficult to compare its budget request to previous appropriations acts or to the current appropriations bills because the Administration continues to propose that Congress fundamentally restructure the way transportation programs work – and to do it in such a way that the Appropriations Committees permanently lose a lot of power over key programs. Since the appropriators will never, never, agree to do something like that unless someone else with a lot of power forces them to – and since the FAST Act pointedly refused to restructure transportation spending in this way less than six months ago – the broad strokes of the President’s transportation budget request for FY 2017 were obvious non-starters in both the House and Senate. The Administration proposed to decrease the actual appropriations for USDOT provided in the bill by $4.2 billion (22 percent) versus the FY 2016 enacted levels, but made up for it by proposing increases in Trust Fund contract authority outside the bill (and associated obligation limitation levels in the bill) of $26.2 billion (a 46 percent increase) as part of its “21st Century Clean Growth Transportation Plan,” which the House and Senate have completely ignored, in part because it would have required an immediate re-opening of the FAST Act.


FAST Act. Speaking of the FAST Act, the House appropriations bill, like the Senate bill, funds the obligation limitations on Highway Trust Fund contract authority authorized by the FAST Act – to the dollar. (These obligation limitations, which constitute about three-fourths of each year’s USDOT budget, are exempt from the Budget Control Act spending caps.) HTF obligation limitations for 2017 under the House bill total $54.375 billion, the exact same amount as the Senate bill.

As far as the programs authorized to receive general fund appropriations by the FAST Act, the House bill funds 96.7 percent of those authorizations in the aggregate. (The President proposed to fund those programs at 221 percent of their FAST Act authorized level via the budgetary legerdemain shown above, which both the House and Senate bills have ignored.) The $2.5 billion appropriation for FTA Capital Investment Grants is actually $198 million above the level authorized by the FAST Act, but House appropriations for the two Amtrak accounts are $80 million below the FAST Act authorizations, and authorizations for the three new intercity rail grant programs established by the FAST Act total $300 million below the authorized levels. In total, the general fund appropriations authorized by the FAST Act in the House bill are $149 million below the authorized levels.


Bill language. This week’s regular issue of Eno Transportation Weekly, to be published after tomorrow’s subcommittee markup, will include much more information on the bill and the legislative language therein. However, the House bill does take a simpler approach to the issue of truck hours of service and the need to fix section 133 of last year’s USDOT appropriations law (Public Law 114-113). The House bill simply says that “The 34-hour restart rule in effect on December 26, 2011, shall be restored to full force and effect, and funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act or any other Act shall be available to implement, administer, or enforce such rule” and also makes conforming date changes in the FY 2015 DOT appropriations law. The Senate bill goes much farther and creates a new 73-hour active duty rule if the 34-hour restart rule that was in effect on June 30, 2013 comes back into effect.

A full table showing all account-level appropriations in the House bill, the Senate bill, the President’s request, and the prior two fiscal years is now online here.


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