Transportation News for July 17, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on July 17, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 7/17/2015


TICK TOCK GOES THE HIGHWAY CLOCK: Most lawmakers are wheels up for the weekend but don’t expect the Capitol halls to be quiet. Senate staffers are sure to be busy playing Highway Trust Fund ping-pong, trying to negotiate a multiyear deal with offsets that both sides can hold their nose and swallow. But the problems are mounting and they go way beyond a list of undesirable pay-fors. Some Democrats dislike the highway safety provisions enough that they’re threatening to stonewall the bill, while members from both parties are skeptical that anything big can be done by month’s end. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” said Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee. “My staff has been in touch with staff over there and there’s a lot of turmoil. There’s no certain path over there at the moment.”

Let’s huddle: Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan crossed the Capitol Thursday for a little international tax strategy session with Sens. Chuck Schumer and Rob Portman. Schumer has said he’s open to the House plan and hinted at unrest over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s push for a multiyear bill. “There’s lots of people who have problems with one piece or another, Democrats and Republicans. … It has the support of neither the Democratic [nor] Republican caucuses at this point,” the future Democratic leader said.
Pay-for problem: Democrats have made it clear that the biggest offset — a change to federal employee retirement benefits that would net about $30 billion — isn’t going to happen with their backing. And on Thursday, Republicans took turns taking shots at the second-biggest pay-for on the list — $17 billion garnered from Federal Reserve dividends owed to banks. “I think that’s a pretty far reach but you know people look for money anywhere they can get it,” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby said during a hearing. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told the committee she also had concerns about the idea and warned of “unintended consequences.” Pro Financial Services’ Jon Prior has more on Yellen’s comments:

Thune weighs in on highway safety: The Senate Commerce Chairman (and No. 3 GOP leader) had this to say about Democratic protests over the highway safety legislation: “They voted en bloc against it, I’m not sure exactly why. We gave them a lot of the things that they wanted, took out a lot of the things that they didn’t want. So that’s a little bit of a mystery,” he said. “As we head to the floor, I’m sure we’ll get an opportunity to visit with them about some of the issues they want to see addressed in the bill.”

Side note: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got the procedural ball rolling on the House plan Thursday evening, just in case he needs to bring that five-month extension up in a pinch later this month.

Read my story:

And for all those gas tax lovers out there (I’m looking at you, Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO), Schumer had this to say: “No party supports raising the gas tax, including me,” he told a gaggle of reporters Thursday. “The vast majority on both parties do not support raising the gas tax. There are some individuals on each side who would be willing to do it.”

WELCOME TO FRIDAY, LET’S DO THIS. Good morning and thanks for reading POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on trains, planes, automobiles and ports.

I’m Heather, your MT host today, and I’m really excited that the makers of Hot Pockets (that gooey deliciousness wrapped in a tasty croissant-like crust) showed former lawmaker and Twitter savant John Dingell some love on the social media site:

Let’s chat! Send scoops, tips, complaints and transpo-related song lyrics to or send a tweet: @heatherscope. Please don’t forget to follow @Morning_Transpo and @POLITICOPro.

And now a little throwback Destiny’s Child to get you guys rolling into the weekend: “And now you ask to use my car, drive it all day and don’t fill up the tank…”

D.C.’S MOST POPULAR OFFICIAL ISN’T AN ELECTED LEADER: Even as police chiefs across the country are under siege, Police chief Cathy Lanier is unassailable, roundly revered and breezing through her eighth year as chief under what is now her third mayor. Read more about the District’s top cop in the latest installment in POLITICO Magazine’s What Works series:

WANNA KNOW WHAT’S IN THE FAA BILL? Kathryn found a summary of House T&I Chairman Bill Shuster’s closely guarded FAA bill in an obscure part of the committee’s website. Her report: A draft of the House’s FAA bill calls for spinning air traffic control functions away from the agency, paid for by a “cost-based user fee structure,” but would keep air traffic controllers’ compensation and benefit plans intact.

There are many key details the summary doesn’t touch on — including the scope of the proposed corporation’s powers, how its governing board would be structured, how broadly any new user fees would be applied and the extent to which they replace excise taxes, and how the fees would be calculated. (You’ll remember the legislation was supposed to be rolled out July 1 but staffers scrapped that plan at the last minute, citing scheduling issues.)

Feedback: A committee aide said he hopes “people enjoy the preview.” And note, the summary doesn’t indicate when it was drafted, or if it’s the most current version of the bill. Read Kathryn’s story:

A little give and take: Your MT host caught up with T&I ranking member Peter DeFazio for an update on FAA negotiations. Aviation watchers, there’s hope yet: “Chairman Shuster and I talked last night and we may be sharing text next week,” DeFazio said Thursday. “Then we’d go to a markup in September.”

UBER IS CAMPAIGN TRAIL TOPIC DU JOUR: The New York Times reports: Uber “is now roiling the campaign for the White House — becoming an unexpected proxy in the emerging debate between the left and right over the future of work, the responsibilities of employers, the virtues of technology and the necessity of workplace regulation. … ’It’s becoming a lightning-rod, wedge issue that candidates have to address,’ said Steven Hill, the author of a coming book about Uber and the so-called sharing economy. ‘It has real and symbolic importance about the direction of our economy.’ … But in a sign of the company’s diverse, bipartisan appeal, particularly among consumers, its roster of advocates and detractors are blurring familiar demographic and ideological divisions.” Full story:

— Related read: Jeb Bush hails Uber for political symbolism, driver has no idea who he is:

MOVIN’ AND A SHAKIN’: There’s been lots of change in the transpo world over the past couple of days. First up, today is Rob Runyan’s last day in Sen. Tom Carper’s office. Runyan, who has worked as spokesman for the energetic Delaware senator, is hopping over to the Treasury Department next week. Congrats on the new gig!

— Waterways Council has named Tracy Zea its director of government relations, starting in early August. Zea comes from the T&I Committee ranks, where he worked on a slew of bills including the water resources reauthorization signed into law last year. He worked for Sen. John Thune before that.

— Your favorite Transportation Pro team (that’d be us) is also excited to welcome a new member. Lauren Gardner will be joining us at the end of July and we couldn’t be happier to have her on board. Gardner comes from CQ and brings a strong energy/environment reporting background that’s going to round out the team nicely. Be sure to show her some Twitter love: @Gardner_LM

— And finally, your host would like to give a very special goodbye to DOT spokesman Ryan Daniels. He’s leaving the department after today to join Treasury’s press shop (say hi to Rob for us!). As a journalist, Ryan is everything you want in a press person — quick to respond to our pestering emails and phone calls, patient beyond belief and just a really nice human. He’s also a pretty snazzy dresser and always greets you with a friendly smile. We’ll miss you, Ryan!!

FRIDAY FUN: If you’re a Washington power player, you know by now that many of D.C.’s roads are named after states — Massachusetts, Florida and Connecticut avenues, just to name a few. Route Fifty is out with a cool new study ranking states’ gravitas based on their road placement within the capital city. Check it out:


— Takata airbag probe focuses on leaky seals as possible problem. The Wall Street Journal:

— Strike threatens to hamper NYC airport travel next week. Capital Pro:

— D’oh! Google’s self-driving car gets in another accident. USA Today:

— Maryland’s Purple Line construction could begin in May. The Washington Post:

— Court rules airlines get leeway when someone throws out a bomb threat. The AP:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 15 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 77 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 483 days.