The House voted Wednesday to continue funding USDOT and other federal agencies through September 30. Funding was scheduled to end on March 27, under a previous short term funding bill.
What you need to know:
1. Transportation is underfunded, providing less than bipartisan, Congressionally-approved MAP-21 funding
2. Sequestration spending cuts are locked in.
3. Action now moves to the Senate, which should unveil its proposal on Monday.
4. No Government shutdown is anticipated.
The final vote was 267-151 for the bill, H.R. 933. 214 Republicans voted yes and 14 voted no; 53 Democrats voted yes and 137 voted no. (Thirteen members didn’t vote.) You can read the bill text and see how your Representative voted at GovTrack’s H.R. 933 webpage.
The bill, known as a “continuing resolution” or “CR” in DC-speak, locks in sequestration spending levels but provides flexibility to agencies in implementing defense and veteran’s program spending.
The House funding proposal
“cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in transportation funding provided by MAP-21 including a Federal-aid highways obligation limitation reduction of almost $600 million, a $125 million reduction in the obligation limitation for transit formula and bus grants [Ed. note: we think the sequester hits new starts, research, and FTA administration, not the formula and grants], and an almost $60 million reduction in highway safety programs. No money is included for new highway safety programs authorized by MAP-21,” according to AASHTO.
“Some states were able to rearrange their current highway safety funds in order to continue programs for the first six months of this fiscal year,” said Governors Highway Safety Administration Chairman Kendell Poole in a statement. “Unfortunately, if the Congress doesn’t fix what is essentially a technicality, state highway safety funds will be severely impacted and motor vehicle-related deaths and injuries can be expected to increase.”
The White House also weighed in on the safety programs funding:
“Language is needed to align the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) State grants programs with the program structure provided in MAP-21. MAP-21 reauthorization substantially changed NHTSA’s State grants programs, consolidating several existing grant programs and adding several new grant programs. Because MAP-21 reorganized or terminated previous grant programs and created new ones, without this anomaly the Department of Transportation would be unable to obligate grants funding for the programs, including State grants that were reorganized and newly added under Section 405 National Priority Safety Programs.”
Senators Barbara Boxer, Tim Johnson and Jay Rockefeller, the leading Democratic Senators on transportation issues, wrote to House Speaker John Boehner that
“[T]he House…continuing resolution would apply an across-the-board reduction to the funding levels authorized in MAP-21 that would result in transportation spending levels even lower than those enacted in FY 2012, and in certain cases would apply drastic reductions to highway safety programs.
“MAP-21 passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support, with a vote of 373 to 52 in the House and a vote of 74 to 19 in the Senate, and the commitments made in that bill must be kept. As we have stated before, the funding levels in MAP-21 are fully paid for with offsets included in the bill, and therefore honoring the bipartisan and bicameral agreement in MAP-21 will not increase the Federal deficit. Not adhering to these levels would ignore the will of Congress and hurt efforts to maintain safe roads and bridges, repair public transportation systems, improve driver safety, and help construction workers get back to work.” Read the entire letter here.
A couple of leading Republican Senators on transportation issues have indicated a desire to enact MAP-21 funding levels, but sounded pessimistic about the chances. Senator Barbara Mikulski, Chair of the Appropriations Committee, may try to bump up transportation funding to MAP-21 levels, but she’ll need 60 votes to achieve it.
House Transportation Chair Republican Bill Shuster indicated that while he would like to see the higher funding level, his priority is to avoid a government shutdown.
Sequestration cuts locked in
The House bill locks in sequestration spending cuts. However it does provide flexibility to agencies in implementing defense and veteran’s program spending.
Republicans were joined by three Democrats in defeating in defeating a Democratic amendment to replace the sequester cuts with tax increases and other cuts.
Action moves to Senate
Senate Democrats are expected to unveil their April-September funding proposal on Monday, and pass their bill by the end of the week. The Senate is likely to include a provision to provide all agencies with flexibility in administering the sequester spending cuts. This could help agencies avoid the worst impacts; FAA, for example, could move funds around to reduce the number of flight control towers it may close down.
The Senate debate could get messy, however. Many Republicans will oppose Democratic proposals for sequester flexibility, and for any tax increases to reduce sequester cuts. And several Republican Senators have said they’ll vote against the continuing resolution unless it includes a provision to eliminate funding for the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”). There’s no way that provision will make it into the bill, and those votes are unlikely to be needed to pass the CR anyway, but wrangling over an amendment vote could occur. Note: the Republican House budget proposal for 2014, to be unveiled this week, will include the provision.
No Government shutdown is anticipated
President Obama and Republican leaders have committed to keeping federal agencies open. The good news is that the House and Senate are passing their proposals in time to have a couple weeks of breathing room to negotiate a final bill. As long as the Senate and House proposals are within striking distance of each other, and not radically different, a deal should be done by March 27.