House and Senate Conference Underway, Another Short-Term Extension Possible
This week, the House and Senate will continue their work on conferencing their respective surface transportation reauthorization bills. While staff have been working to reconcile the bills’ differences, conferees are expected to hold their first official meeting this week. Congressional Democrats and the White House have voiced concern about overall funding levels and certain safety provisions, but they are not expected to block the final bill from moving forward.
The current short-term extension expires on Friday, November 20, so the House and Senate will likely need to pass another short-term extension to provide enough time for the conferees to come to agreement on the final bill. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has included possible consideration of a short-term extension on this week’s House Floor schedule. Because the House and Senate will be in recess during the week of Thanksgiving, any extension would likely carry surface transportation programs into early December.
Included among the issues of contention that need to be worked out is a serious disagreement – bus versus rail – over transit funding. The House approved an amendment on the Floor, offered by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), that would eliminate the $272 million high-density states apportionment made annually to seven Northeastern states and redirect such funds to the reestablished competitive discretionary bus grant program. Members from those Northeastern states, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have voiced significant opposition to the amendment. Due to the strong opposition from Members representing the most transit-dependent region of the country, and the fact that the Big Four of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee recommended a ‘no’ vote on the Herrera Beutler amendment on the Floor, it is unlikely the final bill will include the provision.
Finding sufficient off-sets to fully pay for the bill will likely be one of the final issues resolved in conference. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has publicly floated the idea of a shorter, five-year bill consuming the current House and Senate bills’ six years’ worth of authorizations, allowing for more significant year-over- year funding growth. Over forty transportation stakeholders wrote to conferees last week to express support for Chairman Inhofe’s approach.
This Week’s Hearings:
- Tuesday, November 17: The House Homeland Security Committee, Transportation Security Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “Assessing TSA’s Management and Implementation of the Screening Partnership Program.”
- Tuesday, November 17: The House Agriculture Committee, Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “U.S. International Food Aid Programs: Transportation Perspectives.”
- Wednesday, November 18: The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Information Technology Subcommittee and Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “The Internet of Cars.”
- Thursday, November 19: The House Energy and Commerce Committee, Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “The Disrupter Series: The Fast-Evolving Uses and Economic Impacts of Drones.”