The Week Ahead – July 24, 2017

The Week Ahead – July 24, 2017

July 24, 2017  | Jeff Davis

July 24, 2017 – 11:30 a.m.

The week ahead. This week will be the House of Representatives’ last week in town before leaving for the month-long August recess (the Senate has decided to stay for two more weeks). The full transportation and infrastructure committee schedule for the week is here and an update on a few specific issues is below.

FAA bill. The House floor schedule for this week released by the Majority Leader once again does not include the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill (H.R. 2997), though the schedule does say that “Additional legislative items are possible.” But the 800-pound gorilla on the schedule is the $789 billion “security minibus” appropriations bill, which is expected to attract scores of amendments (maybe hundreds) on the floor. The Majority Leader warned members to expect late night votes this week (maybe overnight).

And the appropriations bill won’t come to the floor until Wednesday afternoon according to the schedule. Although the House is scheduled to be in session on Friday, in past years, members of Congress have shown themselves willing to work late on the Thursday night (even until the wee hours of Friday morning) before a big recess in order not to be in session on Friday.

This does not bode well for the odds of bringing the FAA bill to the floor later this week (in the event that Republican leaders can muster the necessary 218 votes) – 127 amendments to the FAA bill have been filed with the Rules Committee, and under the open debate standards preferred by Speaker Ryan so far, one would expect at least a couple of dozen of those to be made in order when the bill comes to the floor, all of which takes time. And after wearing themselves out on the appropriations bill, House members may not be in the mood to stay in town longer this week just to deal with the FAA bill.

USDOT Appropriations. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to move the fiscal 2018 Transportation-Housing appropriations bill through subcommittee on Tuesday and through full committee on Thursday.

(Unlike the House, the Senate doesn’t have rules requiring that the text of subcommittee-approved legislation be made public, so the full details of the Senate bill won’t become available until after Thursday’s full committee markup.)

We know the most important number for the Senate bill – last week, the Appropriations Committee approved a list of spending allocations to each subcommittee that gives the Transportation-HUD Subcommittee $60.1 billion in discretionary spending (net of rescissions and offsets) – $3.5 billion more than the total for the House bill.

How will the Senate spend the extra $3 billion? The press release from the Appropriations Committee indicates in its penultimate sentence that part of the larger allocation is to account for “FY2017 rescissions unavailable in FY2018” which has to mean the big rescission of highway contract authority ($857 million in 2017) because all other rescissions in the 2017 act only add up to $4 million. The House bill relies on an $800 million rescission of highway contract authority to get down to its $56.5 billion net total, and the House bill also shortchanges several traditional Senate priorities.

ETW has no specific information on how the Senate bill will spend its extra $3.5 billion, except that the bill will increase funding for the Maritime Administration’s security program from the $210 million in the House bill to last year’s $300 million (we know this because that is the only defense account in the THUD bill, and the Senate gives subcommittees separate allocations for the defense and non-defense categories).

However, given the Senate’s priorities in recent fiscal years (and the accounts shortchanged by the House bill in order to make money available to the Gateway Program), here is one hypothetical way that the Senate could use the $3.5 billion if they don’t want to reduce the House bill’s $900 million for Gateway:

How Might the Senate Appropriations Committee Spend the Extra $3.5 Billion They Have for Their FY18 Transportation-HUD Bill? (Hypothetically…)

  Million $
House bill – net total discretionary BA 56,515
Drop highway contract authority rescission from House bill +800
Fund TIGER at last year’s level +500
Fund direct grants to Amtrak at the FAST Act authorized level +172
Fund FTA Capital Investment Grants at last year’s level, not counting the House’s $400m for NY/NJ Gateway §5309(q) grants +1,060
MARAD plus-ups (approx.) +100
Increase funding for HUD accounts +911
Senate bill – net total discretionary BA 60,058

Autonomous vehicles. A House subcommittee marked up autonomous vehicles legislation last week – there is a chance that the full Energy and Commerce Committee considers the bill this week, but they haven’t announced anything yet.

Environmental streamlining. The Senate hearing before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations this Wednesday looks particularly informative – it is worth reminding people that Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), the subcommittee chairman, is the actual author of the massive project delivery reforms in title 41 of the FAST Act. Given the confusion that President Trump’s executive order on the subject  has caused (seemingly redundant with title 41), and the importance that the White House has placed on project delivery expedition in its nascent infrastructure plan, this hearing could bring some much-needed clarity to the situation. The witness list is here.

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