Transportation News for July 23, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on July 23, 2015

POLITICO Morning Transportation for 7/23/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle and Kathryn A. Wolfe

IN THE SENATE, THE REAL HIGHWAY BARGAINING BEGINS: Now that Senate leaders have overcome the first procedural vote on their sweeping transportation funding package, their next challenge will be reaching an agreement on which amendment votes to allow and trying to ensure the most controversial ones don’t shut down the whole process. Then, if they can avert an intra-chamber meltdown, they’ll need to bend the whim of House leaders who have already said they don’t predict the Senate bill flying in the lower chamber: All of this while the clock ticks, with six workdays left before the House leaves for August recess and nine calendar days until transportation authority expires.
Democrats divided: In narrowly approving the motion to begin moving forward on the bill Wednesday evening, Senate leaders rounded up 62 votes of support, while still tallying 30 Democratic and six Republican dissenters: That rift within the Democratic caucus could prove problematic as the chamber’s leaders look to strike deals in the coming days on debate time and an amendment list. And as POLITICO’s Burgess Everett reported ( earlier in the week, there are a few senators who see this highway bill as the perfect hostage to take in their schemes to bring attention to issues that are totally irrelevant to transportation funding.

A ‘torturous’ road: Besides efforts to use the bill to call votes on defunding Planned Parenthood or doing away with exemptions under the Affordable Care Act, the very real prospect that the legislation will become a vessel for reauthorizing the Export-Import bank could be an insurmountable obstacle, some senators say. Sen. Tom Carper told reporters on Tuesday, for example, that just attempting to call a vote on Ex-Im “will lead us down a long — and maybe torturous — road and parliamentary delay.” But the White House is insisting renewal of the bank be attached to whatever highway bill makes it to the president’s desk this month:

So what’s next? These tricky amendment votes are likely to begin later in the week, although on which ones or how many is still up in the air. EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe said Wednesday night that “the next thing that’s going to take place is probably an amendment, the Ex-Im. That’s what most people think.” But Inhofe isn’t fretting about the vote like some of his colleagues, arguing that 65 percent of the Senate supports reauthorizing the bank anyway and that fights over unrelated amendments — as well as qualms with pay-fors — are just par for the course with these big transportation funding bills.

“This is my sixth one of these to go through. And I don’t remember one where that same thing didn’t happen,” said Inhofe, who has been in Congress for more than 28 years. “So the bottom line is, ultimately they’ll look and see that we’re going to pass a bill. And they’re going to see construction in their states. And when they see all this, they don’t want to go home and say that they stopped that from happening. … You wait and see.”

TOP-DOG DEMS HOLD OUT SUPPORT: Any industry veteran will tell you the same thing about transportation bills: They aren’t partisan so much as they’re parochial. And Wednesday’s vote split sure illustrates that. More than half of the Democratic leadership team, including Minority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer, voted against advancing the bill, even after GOP leaders agreed to drop a controversial Social Security offset that was giving Democrats some serious heartburn and tweaked some of the transit provisions. We don’t know for sure why they voted “nay,” but we’ll let Sen. John Thune take a crack at it: “With the exception of Sen. Boxer and a few other people who really want a multiyear bill, it sounds like the Democratic leadership is of a mind that they would be better served by dragging this out again and having a short-term extension and litigating it again at the end of the year, which we don’t think is a good solution,” he said.

Dem Chris Murphy on why he voted no: “People were walking into that vote completely unclear as to what was in it. Pardon the pun, but this is no way to run a railroad,” he told reporters. “If we’re going to vote for a bill that we largely did not write, then we at least have to be able to see it for more than a couple of hours ahead of time.”

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.

“Airport, you’ve got a smiling face…” (H/t Adam Snider)

OMG! THE DOT! There’s no way you were able to soak up all of the stellar reporting our team for The Agenda has posted in its big transpo package this week. So come on, click again: MT’s favorite feature from this massive compilation has got to be Michael Grunwald’s rundown on acronym-happiness: “You’re hip to the FAA and TSA. Maybe you’ve even driven an EV in an HOV lane. But to be a genuine transportation wonk, you need to know the difference between the FTA and FRA, BART and DART, TEA-21 and MAP-21. You need to know which MPO covers your MSA. You need to know that CAFÉ is at an all-time high while VMT has been flat for a decade, and why that’s a problem for the STP. You probably should be familiar with SAFETEA-LU as well, even if you don’t know its crazy backstory. It’s well known that government policy is overpopulated with acronyms, but transportation policy is absolutely infested.”

HOUSE HOMELAND TAKES ON TRIO OF TSA BILLS: A House Homeland Security subcommittee meets this morning to mark up three bills that would make new demands of the TSA, including one ( that would require the agency to revamp its rules for screening airport and airline workers, as well as another ( that would direct the TSA to start using automated systems at all major airports to verify passengers’ identities and launch a pilot program to test automated systems that can verify that travelers are enrolled in PreCheck by scanning biometric information like fingerprints.

Outsider input: The panel is also expected to vote to approve a measure ( that would require the TSA to consult with its advisory committee of aviation stakeholders before making changes to the list of items that aren’t allowed on airplanes. And it would force the agency to report to Congress on how often the advisory committee meets, what work it’s up to and who is on the committee, which is supposed to include representatives from 19 stakeholder groups, including air carriers, passenger advocates and the travel industry.

The back story: The agency fielded an unexpected barrage of outrage from lawmakers when it announced in early 2013 that it would begin allowing items like small pocket knives, golf clubs and hockey sticks to be carried onto commercial flights. Flight attendants groups, in particular, complained that TSA officials didn’t seek their input before announcing the change and that the proposal would endanger airline workers. Congress and the flight attendants ultimately won that battle, demanding that the agency both drop the rule change and start consulting more with stakeholder groups through the Aviation Security Advisory Committee.

ALPA OUTLINES POLICY WISH LIST: The Air Line Pilots Association released a report this week that lays out a series of policy suggestions, urging federal leaders to “fully and continuously” invest in NextGen, ensure drone rules are compatible with the needs of airspace users, rebuff efforts to roll back aviation safety requirements and training mandates, classify lithium batteries as hazardous materials, recognize voluntary steps U.S. airlines have taken to reduce carbon emissions and reject efforts to cut funding for the Federal Flight Deck Officers program. The report:

A NATION DIVIDED OVER TRASH-TALKING TSA TWEETS: The TSA has never been terribly popular among Americans from any corner of the country, but the negative sentiment sure seems stronger in certain states. Sifting through a bunch of TSA-related tweets, found that folks flying through Connecticut, Nevada, Utah, Pennsylvania and Missouri are doing the most bad-mouthing of the TSA via social media. And those traveling through Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Virginia and Alabama are showing the most love in cyberspace for airport screeners. The Oakland airport’s TSA workforce seems to be getting the most flak on Twitter. And screeners in Burbank are being disproportionately showered with praise. Check it out:


— Rep. Peter DeFazio wrote ( to all of his fellow House Democrats on Wednesday, giving them the lowdown on the Senate’s transportation funding proposal and saying the “broad bill” is “a work in progress.”

— A group of 26 House Democrats on Wednesday wrote to FMCSA head T.F. Scott Darling expressing their backing of the agency’s rule to increase the amount that trucks and bus operators must hold in insurance. “By requiring higher levels of insurance for interstate operators, companies will be encouraged to examine their overall safety practices, risk perceptions, and mitigation techniques,” reads the letter:

MOVING ON UP: Airlines for America chose Capt. John Illson as its managing director of safety this week. Illson joins A4A from ICAO, where he was chief of operational safety. Before that, he worked at the MITRE Corporation, the International Air Transport Association and for 25 years at U.S. Airways.


— De Blasio administration dropping plan for Uber cap, for now. The New York Times:

— Smaller cities, especially those located in the South and Midwest, have lost the most flights as a result of recent airline mergers and schedule changes. The Wall Street Journal:

— Fiat Chrysler offers patch after hackers commandeer Jeep. Bloomberg Business:

— Biden, Cuomo to make ‘major infrastructure announcement.’ Capital New York:

— DeFazio takes issue with Justice using airlines’ price monitoring to justify enforcement action. The Wall Street Journal:

— New details emerge about Metro contract that raised ethical questions. The Washington Post:

— Report: Rapid expansion of the Gulf carriers into the U.S. is threatening access for large and small U.S. communities. William Swelbar:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 9 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 71 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 477 days.

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