Transportation News for July 16, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on July 16, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 7/16/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Adam Sneed

PATCH PASSAGE GIVES HOUSE THE UPPER HAND: In their transportation funding showdown with the upper chamber, House leaders have officially set the tone, essentially saying: Your move, Senate. Not only did House leaders succeed in passing their five-month patch on Wednesday, but they did so with the official blessing of the White House. Passage details from Pro:
While Senate leaders continue toiling in hopes of cobbling together enough money for their desired two-year patch, House lawmakers are now just nine workdays away from their scheduled departure for August recess. And it certainly wouldn’t be the first time the House gaveled out while the Senate struggled.

Price tag: CBO estimates the House bill will provide $12.7 billion in contract authority for the last quarter of fiscal 2015 and $10.9 billion through Dec. 18, which is equal to the budget office’s baseline projections for surface transportation programs. Our Kathryn A. Wolfe explains that “the bill would transfer $8.068 billion from the general fund to the Highway Trust Fund in fiscal 2015 to meet the fund’s obligations. But since they are offset, CBO does not project any deficit increase.”

Threat-free: The White House conceded that it supports the House’s five-month patch, stating Wednesday that “the unfortunate reality is that, due to inaction, Congress will need to pass a short-term extension of these authorities to keep federal funding for the nation’s surface transportation system flowing. While the country cannot continue to rely on short-term patches as an approach to funding the nation’s infrastructure, the administration supports passage of H.R. 3038 to give the House and Senate the necessary time to complete work on a long-term bill this year that increases investment to meet the nation’s infrastructure needs.” The SAP:

This one counts: Lawmakers got the Obama administration’s backing to vote for the bill, but those scorecard-wielding outside groups are much harder to please. This time it’s the tax-focused Club for Growth that’s saying it’s dinging legislators who voted for the five-month plan. “This bill includes no pro-growth reforms and is financed with budget gimmicks — not real spending cuts that reduce the size of government,” the group said, urging lawmakers to instead support devolution proposals and to go against any efforts to attach reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to the bill.

SENATE DEAL REMAINS BEYOND REACH: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hosted a meeting Wednesday with Minority Leader Harry Reid and top senators on transportation policy, as part of ramped-up outreach to get Senate Dems on board with the two-year plan. But the huddle didn’t appear to produce a clear way forward for the Senate. Our Heather Caygle and Seung Min Kim detail the strife, explaining that “Senate negotiators are mulling about a dozen different potential ways to pay for a long-term bill that, if taken together, could provide nearly $80 billion — enough to keep highway projects running for at least five years. But the biggest revenue raiser — a change to the federal employee retirement plan that would bring in about $30 billion — is a non-starter for Democrats.”

Pay-for buffet: Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch still has his sights on a two-year transportation bill but says he’s come up with enough offsets for a “five-plus”-year extension of highway funding. Now if only Senate leaders would decide which they’ll accept. Pro Tax’s Brian Faler reports that Hatch said Wednesday that he’d like to tide over transportation programs as long as possible but “would certainly like it to be at least two years.” Although a spokeswoman clarified that the agreement is still in flux, the chairman says leaders have come up with the “ingenious” plan to take $30 billion out of the federal employees’ retirement program. More from Brian:

Ex-Im factor: Sen. Ted Cruz is threatening to hold the entire plan hostage, whatever it ends up entailing, if it is used to house a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. Seung Min reports that “at a press conference with other conservative GOP lawmakers and outside groups Wednesday, Cruz vowed to use ‘any and all procedural tools’ to stop an Ex-Im reauthorization, particularly if it were attached to the highway bill later this month.”

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.

“Her face turns red when we bring up that tie-dyed Winnebago.”

DEMS REBUKE DRIVE ACT SAFETY TITLE: While Senate EPW reported its blueprint for the DRIVE Act last month with bipartisan fervor, approval of the legislation’s latest title was far less amicable this week. At a Wednesday markup of the safety provisions that will eventually be added to the EPW plan, not a single Democrat on the Commerce Committee voted to support the panel’s chunk of the proposal.

We explain on Pro that “if the Senate wants to move a full six-year surface transportation bill, Republicans may need to return to the drawing board on the nearly 500-page safety title the Commerce Committee approved Wednesday — or enact a bill without a safety title. … Democrats proposed dozens of amendments, from trying to reverse language that would push back the positive train control mandate, one to raise the amount of insurance truckers are required to hold, another to scale back the proposed requirement for reporting port productivity data, and one to retain the current minimum age for long-haul truckers. But the minority party’s qualms go way beyond issues with those specific provisions, and the panel’s Democrats say their input has been left out of legislation they claim is sweepingly flawed.”

SENATORS HAVE GOT NOTHIN’ BUT PRAISE FOR NADEAU: Sen. Angus King says the highest compliment you can pay a Mainer is to say he’s “finest kind.” And that regionally favored compliment is just the way to describe FHWA Acting Administrator Greg Nadeau, King says. During Nadeau’s confirmation hearing on Wednesday to take the post permanently, the senator argued that the nominee “has really demonstrated a dedication to infrastructure and highway issues, a deep knowledge of how this works,” both on the federal and state levels. And King should know, since he hired Nadeau to advise him when he served as governor of Maine.

Bipartisan praise: It isn’t just the NHTSA head’s home-state pals who are patting him on the back, though. Senate EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe signaled his support for Nadeau this week, and panel aides have said the committee plans to approve the nomination before the Senate shuts down for August recess.

EU ADVANCES PLAN TO SHARE PASSENGER DATA: The European Union is preparing to hammer out a deal to collect and share data for passengers on all flights in and out of the region, POLITICO’s David Meyer reports from Europe. A parliamentary civil liberties committee on Wednesday cleared the way for negotiations to proceed this fall on a plan that will make the data accessible for up to five years when related to terrorism cases. All data will be masked after 30 days so only entities with authorization can access it.

A similar measure stalled in 2013 amid privacy concerns, but EU countries revived the idea after the Charlie Hebdo killings in France. But leftists and centrists in the EU say blanket record-keeping laws violate European data protection laws, David writes. More here:

WHAT TRAVELERS WANT: Millennials’ tech-heavy lifestyles are pressuring their employers to adjust when it comes to travel, according to a new report from the Global Business Travel Association. Morning Tech author Adam Sneed lays out the findings: 69 percent of younger employees want access to mobile apps for managing itineraries and expenses, and 39 percent expect access to ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft. The top thing they want on a flight? “Travelers are going to pick Wi-Fi over pretty much anything else,” said Joseph Bates, GBTA’s vice president of research. The only thing survey participants valued more than free Wi-Fi is free checked bags. The report:

WHITE HOUSE SENDS EMERGENCY TEAM INTO N.J. RAIL DISPUTE: The White House just stood up a temporary, three-member board to investigate a dispute between New Jersey Transit Rail and a number of labor unions, and to report back to the administration within a month. Pro Labor and Employment’s Marianne LeVine has all the background deets ( “More than 400 engineers represented by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen voted unanimously to strike July 16 if a presidential emergency board did not intervene in contract negotiations, which have lasted four years.” And Ryan Hutchins explains how Obama’s move heads off a possible strike:

‘DRONE LAWYER’ TO DJI: POLITICO Influence reports that drone company DJI has hired Brendan Schulman as its vice president of policy and legal affairs. Schulman is often known as ‘The Drone Lawyer” and has represented individuals and organizations in civilian drone cases.


— 46 Indicted on charges related to smuggling drugs on flights. AP:

— Judge says Uber should be suspended in California and fined $7.3 million. LA Times:

— Op-Ed: A sensible long-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund. Roll Call:

— Delta soars on cheap fuel, but hints of fare decline. AP:

— Everglades bike path: Yea or nay? WLRN:

— Technology will speed you through the airport of the future. The Wall Street Journal:

— Nonprofit groups sue over airport body scanners. The New York Times:

— Uber tops taxi use for business travelers, new report shows. AP:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 16 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 78 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 484 days.