Transportaton Update: Three Days Until Current Authorization Expires

Posted on: June 27th, 2012 by NADO Admin

With only three days remaining before the current authorization (P.L. 112-102) of surface transportation programs expires at midnight on June 30, House and Senate leadership and conference committee negotiators have been working non-stop to complete a final measure.

Today marks one of the most critical deadlines yet for the surface transportation reauthorization bill (H.R. 4348). If a conference report is not completed and posted on the Internet before midnight tonight, the House will not have enough time to vote on the final committee report before the Saturday deadline (and Monday marks the first day of the Fourth of July recess).  Congress would then either need a very short-term extension to avoid a shutdown of transportation programs and provide more negotiation time, or they would need to pass a longer extension (although House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has decreed “no more extensions lasting less than six months,” which would defer action until after Election Day).

Reports emerged this morning that leadership and conferees have agreed to a basic structure of a deal and are working as quickly as possible to finalize all remaining issues. One of the agreements, as reported this morning by CQ Today, is that the House will drop the Keystone XL pipeline and coal ash provisions in the bill. In exchange, the Senate will drop expansion of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and will make significant concessions to the House on streamlining environmental reviews for infrastructure projects. Transportation Weekly reported that the final deal could be a 27-month bill (through September 2014) offset by the “smoothing of private sector pension payments, as first proposed by Senate Majority Leader Reid on June 7.”

WHAT’S HAPPENED OVER THE LAST SEVERAL DAYS

Although discussions seem to be back on track, over the weekend, talks appeared to break down as word circulated of a set-back on Saturday.  However, as the week has progressed, both the House and Senate have grown increasingly optimistic about getting a conference report completed by Saturday.

Several key events occurred yesterday (June 26):

  1. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-FL) called a meeting of all House Republican conferees to personally brief them on the state of negotiations.  He then met with House Speaker Boehner.
  2. It was reported that Speaker Boehner also met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to discuss remaining issues of disagreement that need to be resolved at the leadership level (including Keystone XL pipeline, coal ash, RESTORE Act, and RAMP Act). Reports have also emerged that other issues discussed included overall spending levels, length of the bill, how to pay for the bill, a highway funding formula, and details involving project delivery and environmental streamlining.
  3. The House voted on two measures—both “non-binding” motions—to instruct the House conferees on the ongoing conference:
    1. The House rejected a motion (172 to 255) offered by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to instruct the House conferees to accept the Senate bill
    2. The House agreed (201 to 194) to a motion offered by Diane Black (R-TN) to instruct the House conferees not to agree to a new distracted driving incentive grant program (under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) in the conference report

RULES MOVING FORWARD

Under House rules, a conference report filed and posted online by midnight today (June 27) can be considered for a vote on Friday morning.  Although House leaders can waive this rule through the Rules Committee if they so choose, Republicans promised repeatedly in 2010 not to do so.

Under Senate rules, a conference report must be posted on the Internet for at least 48 hours before a vote can occur.  Under this rule, they do not have enough time to complete the bill. However, the Senate can by-pass this rule (which they will need to do), by securing the vote of 60 Senators to waive the rule.  It is expected that there will be no problem in getting the 60 votes needed to proceed.

Even if all outstanding issues are resolved and a conference report is filed by tonight, there also exists a lingering challenge for both House and Senate leadership—that is, to rally enough votes to pass the conference report in both chambers (despite the major ideological issues that have stalled this bill for so long).

As reported so aptly by Transportation Weekly, “the fundamental question of this conference, then, is: how far can Democrats go in altering the Senate bill to attract House Republican support before they start losing Democratic votes?  And how many Democratic votes can they afford to lose in the hopes of gaining Republican votes which may or may not show up (there is no way to know until after the conference report is filed and people have had time to digest the details)?”

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