Senate Committee Approves RRIF and NASA Bills, 3 Nominations

Senate Committee Approves RRIF and NASA Bills, 3 Nominations

November 15, 2019  | Jeff Davis

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a drama-free markup on November 13 and approved 20 bills by voice vote, including a NASA reauthorization and a bill extending federal authority to make RRIF railroad loans for transit-oriented development purposes. The panel also approved nominees for maritime and transportation safety panels and the Amtrak Board of Directors.

  • NASA authorization. Remember, the first “A” in “NASA” stands for “Aeronautics,” and their aeronautics budget account is classified as part of budget function 400, “transportation.” The Commerce Committee approved S. 2800, a fiscal year 2020 NASA authorization bill, with a substitute amendment that includes an aeronautics title (title IV). That title directs NASA to continue development of a supersonic civilian transport aircraft, an energy-efficient subsonic demonstrator plane with low emissions and low life-cycle costs, and the secret defense “X-plane.” It also directs NASA to “research and test capabilities and concepts, including unmanned aircraft systems communications, for integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.” The committee also adopted a Markey (D-MA) amendment expressing the sense of Congress that “NASA should not be directly involved in the Type Certification of aircraft for current and future scheduled commercial air service under part 121 or part 135 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations, that would result in reductions in crew augmentation or single pilot or autonomously operated aircraft.” The committee also adopted a Schatz (D-HI) amendment directing NASA to establish a R&D initiative on electric aircraft propulsion concepts.
  • RRIF TOD. The panel approved S. 2805, a bill providing a two-year extension of the authority that expires on December 4, 2019 for the Railroad Revitalization and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program to make low-interest loans to promote economic development adjacent to rail stations (see this summary of the bill from last week’s issue). One amendment to the bill was adopted: a Wicker (R-MS) amendment changing the bill’s requirement for DOT to give summary reports to Congress from every 90 days to every 180 days.
  • Bentzel (FMC) nomination. The committee approved the nomination of Carl Bentzel to fill a vacancy on the Federal Maritime Commission.
  • Graham (NTSB) nomination. The committee approved the nomination of Michael Graham to fill a vacancy on the National Transportation Safety Board.
  • Rokita (Amtrak) nomination. The committee approved the nomination of former Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) to fill a vacancy on the Amtrak Board of Directors. Three other Trump Administration nominees for the Amtrak Board are already pending on the Senate Executive Calendar, an indication that someone on the Democratic side of the aisle has been objecting to those nominees moving forward and that the Majority Leader has, so far, not been willing to waste hours of Senate floor time to muscle them through by majority vote under the time-consuming cloture process.
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