Time Running Out for Administration to Submit Its Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill

Time Running Out for Administration to Submit Its Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill

July 31, 2020  | Jeff Davis

As time runs out for Congress to reauthorize federal surface transportation programs prior to their scheduled expiration on September 30 of this year, time is also running out for the Trump Administration to submit the text of its reauthorization plan.

The Administration’s fiscal 2021 budget request, submitted almost six months ago, contained the dollar amounts of a ten-year surface transportation reauthorization proposal. But as to all the legislative and policy details, the budget only said, over and over, “In the coming months the Administration will release the details of its reauthorization proposal.”

So far, no proposal. The Department of Transportation has prepared one, and sent it to the White House Office of Management and Budget months ago for the interagency “clearance” process. But that process has not yet produced a final product, which puts the Trump Administration at risk of joining the first Obama Administration in the exclusive club – the only Presidents who never put forward their own surface transportation proposals.

When Barack Obama took office in January 2009, the five-year SAFETEA-LU transportation authorization law was scheduled to expire on September 30, 2009. Much to the chagrin of House T&I chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), the White House did not want to pursue an immediate reauthorization, and instead asked for an 18-month extension, so that they could do surface transportation in the second half of their first term. (Congress responded with a series of short-term extensions that did indeed wind up going into the next second half of the first term.)

But in 2011 and 2012, OMB never cleared the reauthorization bill produced by DOT staff. Instead, DOT sent sections of it to Congress under the table, labeled “technical assistance” (meaning that it was not official Administration policy), and it was never introduced as a bill.

The possibility of this happening for a second time is growing. The table below shows the transmittal dates of every President’s formal surface transportation reauthorization proposal dating back to Dwight Eisenhower in 1955.

Information on Presidential Surface Transportation Reauthorization Proposals

Before the first term of the Obama Administration, every previous President dating back to 1955 had formally submitted a proposed highway/surface authorization bill to Congress.
When a Cabinet Secretary or other Administration official sends a letter to Congress, it is recorded as an Executive Communication and given a sequential number for that Congress by the House and (separately) by the Senate.  When the President himself sends a letter to Congress, it is printed as a House or Senate Document.   The House numbering is used below except for two instances where only Senate communications can be found in the Record, and those are marked with an asterisk.
Administration Formally Transmits Its Highway Bill Text To Congress Administration Bill Introduced in the House (By Request)
Congress President Date Transmission Date Bill Number
84th Eisenhower February 22, 1955 H. Doc. No. 93 February 22, 1955 H.R. 4260
85th Eisenhower March 11, 1958 EC No. 1702 March 18, 1958 H.R. 11466
86th Eisenhower March 3, 1960 EC No. 1908 No bill No bill
87th Kennedy April 9, 1962 EC No. 1916 April 10, 1962 H.R. 11199
88th Johnson February 13, 1964 EC No. 1702 February 20, 1964 H.R. 10055
89th Johnson March 22, 1966 EC No. 2228 April 6, 1966 H.R. 14359
90th Johnson April 23, 1968 EC No. 1774 May 8, 1968 H.R. 17314
91st Nixon June 8, 1970 EC No. 2122 No bill introduced No bill
92nd Nixon April 24, 1972 EC No. 1900 May 3, 1972 H.R. 14759
93rd Nixon February 22, 1973 EC No. 475 March 5, 1973 H.R. 5138
93rd Nixon February 13, 1974 EC No. 1882 February 19, 1974 H.R. 12859
94th Ford July 8, 1975 H. Doc. 94-204 July 8, 1975 H.R. 8430
95th Carter January 26, 1978 H. Doc. 95-284 January 26, 1978 H.R. 10578
97th Reagan March 18, 1981 EC No. 842 April 9, 1981 H.R. 3197
97th Reagan November 30, 1982 H. Doc. 97-259 November 30, 1982 H.R. 7330
99th Reagan February 5, 1986 EC No. 2686 February 5, 1986 H.R. 4144
102nd G.H.W. Bush February 26, 1991 EC No. 726 March 7, 1991 H.R. 1351
105th Clinton April 10, 1997 EC No. 2752 April 10, 1997 H.R. 1268
108th G.W. Bush May 19, 2003 EC2388* May 14, 2003 H.R. 2088
111th-112th Obama No bill transmitted for SAFETEA-LU reauthorization cycle 2009-2012
113th Obama May 1, 2014 EC5568* June 11, 2014 H.R. 4834
116th Trump ?????? ??????
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