Senate Passes Defense Bill With Chinese Transit Rolling Stock Ban

June 28, 2019

Yesterday, the U.S. senate passed the bill S. 1790, reauthorizing the programs of the Defense Department for fiscal year 2020, by a bipartisan vote of 86 to 8. As amended by the Senate prior to passage, the bill contains language prohibiting mass transit agencies from using federal transit funding to purchase transit rail cars or buses from manufacturers owned by, or subsidized by, the government of the People’s Republic of China.

(Even though the bill passed the Senate yesterday, the Senate isn’t done with the bill yet. Because what seems like half the Democrats in the Senate are running for President and were thus in Florida for debates yesterday, and they wanted to be present for a vote on an amendment on Iran policy, the Senate reached a unanimous consent agreement to hold the vote on the Iran amendment today, starting at the ridiculous hour of 5 a.m. and being held open all morning, and if that amendment gets at least 60 votes, it will be added to S. 1790 post-passage.)

Section 6015 of S. 1790 as passed by the Senate is the text of the “Transit Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act” (S. 846) that was introduced three months ago by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) as well as Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the latter two being the chairman and ranking Democrat on the committee that oversees federal mass transit policy. Since the introduction of the bill, 43 additional Senators have been added as cosponsors.

The rolling stock provision was not included in S.1790 as it was originally reported from the Senate Armed Services Committee. But on June 19, Armed Services chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) introduced a bipartisan “amendment in the nature of a substitute” for the entire bill (Senate Amendment 764, the text of which starts here on page S3855). Amendment 764 was agreed to by the Senate by voice vote immediately prior to yesterday’s final passage vote.

Action on the defense bill – which always, always, gets signed into law every single year even if almost no other get enacted – now turns to the House. The House Armed Services Committee reported its own bill (H.R. 2500) on June 19 (bill text here and committee report here). Section 896 of H.R. 2500 contains language that is identical to the Senate language, but for one word –the House language adds the word “rail” in front of rolling stock in several places, so the House language only applies to transit rail cars, not transit buses (the Senate language applies to both rail cars and buses).

The House will take up H.R. 2500 after the July 4 recess, and the House Rules Committee has announced a hearing on the bill. The Rules Committee required that any member wanting to offer an amendment to H.R. 2500 file a copy with Rules by June 25, and 623 potential amendments were filed (see list here). Not one of those amendments appears to affect the transit rolling stock provision in section 896.

(Ed. Note: The absence of a filed amendment does not necessarily mean that no one will try to amend the provision – the foremost House defender of the Chinese rail car manufacturer CRRC has been Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), because CRRC opened a big assembly plant in his district. When you are the Ways and Means chairman, you don’t file amendments to other committee’s bills, you work your mojo behind the scenes and try to get the Rules Committee to “self-execute” your provision.)

But the rolling stock provision is in the jurisdiction of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which means the Rules Committee would normally defer to the wishes of chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who supports the provision.


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