Legislative Activity

House Transportation Bill Marked-Up, But Short-Term Extension Needed

Facing the October 29 expiration of surface transportation programs, the House will vote this week on a bill to extend these programs for three weeks, through November 20, buying time for the House to finish work on its six-year bill. The extension legislation also includes a three-year postponement, until December 31, 2018, of the deadline to implement Positive Train Control (PTC), a compromise provision crafted by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD). The short-term transportation extension follows a five-hour markup on Thursday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of its long-term highway bill, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRR Act).

The STRR Act would provide $325 billion over six years (FYs 2016-2021) for the Federal-aid highway ($261 billion), highway safety ($9 billion),  and public transportation ($55 billion) programs, a level equal to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated inflation-adjusted baseline spending for these programs. The Committee passed the STRR Act by voice vote, also adopting a Manager’s Amendment and eleven individual amendments. In total, 160 amendments had been filed, though many were either offered and withdrawn or simply discussed but not offered during the markup. The “Big Four” agreement on this bill among full committee and subcommittee leadership meant that only amendments with bipartisan support were approved at the markup.

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to release a revenue title soon that looks very similar to the Senate DRIVE Act’s. The Senate bill supplements Highway Trust Fund revenues for three years through a General Fund transfer offset by spending cuts and revenue increases from sources throughout the Federal budget, with the remaining three years authorized pending additional revenue. The House bill already includes a similar 3 + 3 year authorization scheme, but lacks sufficient revenues to fully pay for even the first three years of the bill.

This week’s vote on a short-term extension bill is needed because timing for floor action on the long-term House bill is uncertain, in part due to the lack of a revenue title. Even if the Ways and Means Committee did produce their title this week, the House must address the debt ceiling in the coming days, as the limit will be reached on November 3, and will hold an election for a new Speaker on October 29, leaving little time for the House to consider the STRR Act on the floor this week.

In what has become an almost routine practice of extending surface transportation programs for short periods between multi-year bills, the two chambers generally adopt clean extensions of current programs with no discussion or debate. This latest House extension, however, includes a full three-year postponement of the deadline for railroads to implement PTC, which is likely to garner some resistance from Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Sen. Boxer has publicly called for keeping the must-pass long-term PTC extension in the long-term surface bill, to help ensure the larger bill is enacted this fall.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, October 27: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “Prevention of and Response to the Arrival of a Dirty Bomb at a U.S. Port.”