Senate Takes Up FY 2012 DOT/THUD Appropriations Bill Final Vote Due October 31
As of this writing, the Senate is coming close to wrapping up it’s consideration of HR 2112 that would fund DOT for the remainder of the 2012 Fiscal Year, but due to a Senate recess the last week of October, the final vote will occur on Monday, October 31st. As reported in the September 23rd, Legislative Update, the Senate bill funds motor carrier state safety grants, including MCSAP, at a slightly higher level than the House version of the bill which has not yet been scheduled for a vote on the House floor. When the House and Senate reconcile the two bills in Conference, the final funding limits will at least reflect the highest authorized levels under SAFETEA-LU.
The Senate bill also contains a provision at the request of Sen. Collins of Maine that would make the Maine/Vermont truck weight pilot program permanent. It would increase the limit on Interstate Highways in those states to 100,000 lbs. from the current federal limit of 80,000 lbs.
During consideration of HR 2112 on the Senate floor, Sen. Ayotte of New Hampshire, was preparing to offer an amendment that would prevent the use of federal funds to finalize, implement or enforce FMCSA’s December 29, 2010 proposed new hours-of-service rule. CVSA sent a letter (attached) to each member of the Senate pointing out it could lead to a situation where no funds would be available to enforce either the new rule or even the preceding hours-of-service rule that is now in existence. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, also sent a letter stating his objections to the amendment pointing out that it serves to undermine the regulatory process (attached). Thus far in the process, which will be concluded on October 31st, Sen. Ayotte’s amendment has not been cleared for a vote on the Senate Floor. But there are reports that she is attempting to revise her amendment to address the issue raised by enforcement. We will report the outcome through our Legislative Update after the Senate takes final action early next week.
Finally, the Senate bill, as we reported earlier, contains language holding the states harmless with respect to CVISN funds allocated to them beyond FMCSA’s statutory authority.
Reauthorization Moves a Notch Higher on the Congressional Agenda
On the House side, as we reported earlier, Republican Leadership has allowed Rep. John Mica, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to look for sources of funding that would support a longer-term reauthorization bill at least at current funding levels. His proposal earlier this year would have resulted in a 30 percent cut from current funding levels. The search for additional funding will not be easy, but the decision of the Republican Leadership at least opens the door for consideration of a long-term bill in the House, possibly next year.
On the Senate side, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has announced that her Committee will mark-up a two-year Reauthorization bill on November 9th. Her bill would retain current funding levels, but only if an additional $12-billion is found. The responsibility for coming up with the additional funding rests with the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Sen. Max Baucus. Unless he is able to identify such funding and get his Committee’s support for it, Sen. Boxer’s bill, though reported out of her Committee, could not be considered on the floor of the Senate with the funding issue unresolved.
The current status of the economy and the need to create more jobs is placing reauthorization higher on the Congressional agenda. Whether the jobs bill proposed by the Obama Administration earlier this fall will win Congressional approval is still uncertain at this point. Congress may have a higher comfort level addressing the jobs issue through a surface transportation bill since, in addition to creating more jobs, no one disputes the fact that our nation’s transportation infrastructure is badly in need of repair, upgrading, and new investment.