Just when the Senate leadership came up with a way to fund a multiyear highway bill, Democrats and a few Republicans on Tuesday decided 1,000 pages of legislation was a little much to digest in an hour or two and blocked a procedural motion to open debate on the package. The delay is significant because the current federal surface transportation authorization expires in just over a week.
The bipartisan $47 billion funding portion of the plan, however, covers only about three years’ worth of the difference between income from federal gasoline and diesel taxes and the cost of the program. Leading offsets include $16.3 billion from a change in the fixed dividend rate paid by the Fed to member banks, and $9 billion to be gained by selling off crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), among others.
But it’s the policy portion of the legislation that Democrats have resisted in various committee hearings in recent weeks. Along with numerous provisions pertaining to automobiles, rail, and aviation, the bill contains language that substantially reforms the way the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates trucking.
The debate moved to the opinion pages of major newspapers this week as well.
“Even by the low standards of the current Congress, these bills are egregious examples of faithfully saying yes to everything industry wants, in this case the transportation companies,” reads an editorial the New York Times published Tuesday, which specifically points to language that would allow states to enter into agreements permitting CDL holders under age 21 to cross state lines.
In an op-ed published by USA Today, Joan Claybrook, the former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and president emeritus of advocacy group Public Citizen, writes that “some 330 people are being killed each month and nearly 8,000 are suffering excruciating injuries in accidents involving trucks … [and] congressional leaders don’t seem concerned.” She cites specifically the push to allow pup trailers of up to 33 feet on the federal highway system.
American Trucking Assns. supports both initiatives.
A second vote on opening floor debate on the highway bill is expected Wednesday afternoon. The House last week voted to extend the current authorization into December.