Transportation News for June 25, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on June 25, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 6/25/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle

ON THE VERGE OF AN FAA BILL DROP: House T&I leaders are expected to introduce their FAA overhaul by next Wednesday, following on with a hearing July 8 and a markup July 9, the panel’s top Democrats tell MT. Rep. Peter DeFazio and Rick Larsen say they’ve been huddling with their GOP counterparts this week, trying to buff out disagreements before the bill gets dropped. “There will be a bill next week,” DeFazio told us. “My agreement with the chairman is that — if he’s going to mark up the Thursday we get back and we’re going to do a hearing possibly the day before — then we have the bill at least a week ahead of time.”
Points of disagreement: The ranking member says he’s still concerned about provisions that would pull the air traffic control system out of federal hands. And Larsen says the ATC language is certainly an example of an issue the two parties have yet to settle. But negotiations have been amicable, and the leaders have found agreement on many other issues, Larsen said. “There are a lot of areas where we’ve come together: on certification, unmanned aerial vehicles and other areas,” he said. “It isn’t to say there’s agreement on the big issue of air traffic reform, but this is a bill made up of many parts. That ATC reform is one part. And I can’t make a commitment that I will support the entire bill — yet. But there’s a lot of good in the bill because of the bipartisan process Chairman Shuster has driven.”

Work in progress: Because many stakeholders have yet to see the legislation, the panel’s leaders plan to revisit the text once they’ve gotten feedback, Larsen said. “In fairness to a lot of people who have an interest in the shape of the bill, we’re going to have to listen to those folks once the language is out,” he said. “And that may change the calculous on both sides of the aisle, or it might not.”

CONGRESS CLOSES DOWN, SANS HIGHWAY DEAL: For the purpose of transportation funding negotiations, it might as well be mid-July right now. House lawmakers will flee town for their weeklong recess early this afternoon. Most senators are already gone. And when the chambers return, leaders will have only three and a half workweeks to extend policy and come up with the money to fund the nation’s infrastructure projects beyond this summer. Our Heather Caygle and Kathryn A. Wolfe report that “Congress is charging headfirst into the July 4th recess with lawmakers miles apart on a deal to cover the highway and transit funding gap, making the chances lawmakers will have to settle for a short-term patch greater than ever. … House and Senate tax writers are pursuing dramatically divergent paths while Senate Democrats continue to vow to scuttle any deal that doesn’t live up to the dictum they laid out last week demanding a multiyear bill on the Senate floor next month.” More from Pro:

SENATE FINANCE HOSTS ANOTHER BRAINSTORMING SESSION: Senate Finance meets this morning to talk again about how to pay for transportation infrastructure in the years to come, hearing from the president of Purdue University and the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation. Chairman Orrin Hatch has indicated that Republicans are looking for ways to squeeze cost savings from other parts of the budget to keep the Highway Trust Fund flush, but he keeps those ideas close to the vest. Watch live at 10 a.m.:

The low bar: A dual member of EPW and the Finance panel, Sen. Ben Cardin told Heather on Wednesday that the goal is to shoot for a measure “larger than the EPW bill — EPW is the minimum. We have come forward, we’ve said: ‘Look, we have our favorites within the trust fund that we would like to deal with.’ If that’s too heavy of a lift for Republicans, look at the international tax issues, there’s some revenues there that we could use.”

IT’S THURSDAY: Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

Reach out: or @jascholtes.

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EPW TRIES TO BLAZE TRANSPORTATION FUNDING TRAIL: Senate Environment and Public Works leaders are hoping to be trend-setters, sending off their six-year transportation bill on Wednesday despite the ongoing impasse over how to fund the infrastructure priorities the legislation lays out. “I hope it starts a trend in the Senate,” EPW ranking member Barbara Boxer said as the committee moved to approve the measure in a unanimous 20-0 vote. The bill would authorize $278 billion for transportation programs over six years, create a new federally funded freight program and boost overall funding levels at an annual average of 3 percent. Our Heather Caygle explains that, while the Senate Banking and Commerce committees are expected to take action on their parts of the bill after the July Fourth recess, the “forward momentum stands in the shadow of the larger funding issue, a problem the House and Senate tax-writing committees are still struggling to resolve.”

FRA REMAINS MUM ON PTC PUNISHMENT: Six months out from the positive train control deadline, the FRA’s talking points remain the same: The agency intends to enforce the Dec. 31 mandate but still hasn’t settled on a plan for punishing noncompliant railroads. And a good chunk of the legislative branch is peeved about both of those admissions. Enduring an unrelenting grilling from House T&I lawmakers on Wednesday, FRA acting Administrator Sarah Feinberg held strong to her commitment to enforcing the year-end deadline but still had little to report about how the agency plans to penalize railroads that don’t fall in line by that date.

Beyond fines, the FRA wants to use emergency orders, compliance agreements and civil penalties to try to drive quicker PTC compliance. And the agency needs Congress to provide the power, Feinberg said, for the FRA to require railroads to take other safety steps while they work to get PTC in place.

THE CONFEDERATE FLAG DEBATE COMES TO CONGRESS: Sen. Sherrod Brown is running his own campaign against the Confederate battle flag, beginning to craft an amendment to the surface transportation bill that would withhold federal funds from states that allow the symbol on license plates. Heather elaborates:

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last week that Texas is allowed to reject license plate designs that feature the Confederate flag, after the Sons of Confederate Veterans fought all the way to the high court for the right to include its design among the state’s options. More on that decision from CNN Politics:

BUSINESS GROUPS TRY TO TANK REPATRIATION TALKS: If Congress’ repatriation fans are going to make it happen, they’ll need to start wooing the raft of business groups that voiced their opposition to the idea Wednesday. Pro’s Brian Faler reports that “The Business Roundtable, the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers, among others, all issued statements criticizing plans to use a special tax on companies’ overseas earnings to cover a $90 billion shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund. …[Their] objections range from the tax bills repatriation would generate to the likelihood that it would siphon money away from efforts to rewrite the entire tax code. Some demanded big cuts in the corporate tax rate in exchange, while others complained it was unfair to tap them to cough up the money needed to keep the highway program humming.”

Reality check: Rep. Pat Tiberi, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, told POLITICO that those opponents wouldn’t ultimately like the alternative — raising taxes, which would affect many in the business world. “We have to deal with reality,” he said. “We don’t live in a perfect world” and “this is probably the best option right now.”

Just the beginning: Rep. Dave Reichert, who heads the subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures, said it’s natural for stakeholders to voice concerns before a proposal has fully taken shape. “As we continue the examination of all the possibilities, things will be more defined.” Reichert also conceded, though, that repatriation isn’t the end-all. “There are lots of ideas on the table,” he said. “We’ll continue to look at all the options.”


— Ford to launch car-sharing program in six U.S. cities and London. The Wall Street Journal:

— An increase in the number of drones flown through wildfire-struck areas has made operations more difficult for firefighting officials. NBC News:

— Uber hits legal speed bumps. POLITICO Europe:

— GM to test Cisco technology for sharing road safety spectrum. Reuters:

— Lexus says its hoverboard really flies, but it won’t soar into stores. LA Times:

— Should a driverless car decide who lives or dies? Bloomberg Business:

— What are the odds your carry-on won’t fit?. The Wall Street Journal:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 37 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 98 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 504 days.