Transportation Bill Deadline, 11/16/15 10:00 AM EST
TRANSPORTATION NEGOTIATORS WORK DOWN TO THE DEADLINE: Congressional leaders have just five days now to either reach bicameral consensus on a sweeping transportation funding plan or to again buy themselves time with a short-term policy patch. Because the Highway Trust Fund isn’t dangerously depleted just yet, a brief extension probably wouldn’t be so hard to pass. But the transportation-focused lawmakers trying to move this multiyear deal are unlikely to publicly throw up their hands just yet – hoping to keep the pressure on for making progress in the next few days, even if they’re unable to get a final bill off to the president by Friday’s deadline.
Fallback plan: Glancing at this week’s House schedule, our Kathryn A. Wolfe reports that leaders in the lower chamber have put lawmakers on notice of “possible consideration of a short-term extension to the Highway Trust Fund” today. But House aides have said that’s “just in case.” On 60 Minutes over the weekend, newly seated House Speaker Paul Ryan said that “if we can find common ground, we can on highways, we will on funding the government, hopefully we can on tax policy.”
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FOXX MAKES LAST-DITCH FUNDING PLEA: Emerging from a weeklong recess, the transportation conferees named in both chambers earlier this month haven’t yet had a chance to hold a formal meeting. And those trying to influence the process are still submitting their concerns. From DOT, the secretary himself has sent a letter to House T&I leaders, asking that they work with the administration to raise overall funding. “While the Senate version importantly provides an increase over current funding levels,” Secretary Anthony Foxx writes, “even more is needed to reverse the declining condition of our surface transportation system and enable real improvement.”
Laundry list: Foxx specifically asks for funding and authority for the TIGER grant program, as well as a bump in money for TIFIA loans DOT uses to finance road, rail and other surface transportation projects. He commends the Senate for including a rail title in its version, plus $199 million to help commuter railroads install positive train control technology. And he warns that the House bill doesn’t kick in enough funding for administrative activities.
Safety qualms: Both chambers’ versions, Foxx says, “contain several highly objectionable provisions that would undermine the safety of the Nation’s transportation system.” The safety issues the secretary cites: prohibitions preventing states from using federal funding to enforce motorcycle helmet laws, language he says would limit DOT’s ability to recall dangerous rental cars and Senate provisions that would allow states to decrease mandatory jail requirements for repeat DUI offenders.
IT’S MONDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning into POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports.
HAPPENING THIS WEEK:
Today – Rep. John Katko holds a press conference at his district office in Syracuse to talk about a legislative response to preventing terrorist attacks like Friday’s massacre in Paris. Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez plans to turn out for a Capitol Hill awards ceremony hosted by the Roadway Safety Foundation and the Federal Highway Administration to recognize innovative highway safety efforts.
Tuesday – A House Homeland Security subcommittee holds a hearing on TSA’s screening partnership program. A House T&I panel and a House Agriculture subcommittee hold a joint hearing on maritime transportation’s role in international food aid programs.
The NTSB meets to discuss a 2014 median crossover collision in Oklahoma. The National Business Aviation Association hosts a convention and expo.
Wednesday – The Senate Commerce Committee marks up a “Pilot Bill of Rights” measure. The House Oversight Subcommittee on Information Technology holds a hearing titled “The Internet of Cars,” with testimony from a top NHTSA official and executives from GM, Toyota and Tesla.
The FRA holds a meeting of the Northeast Corridor Safety Advisory Committee. PHMSA hosts a workshop on the National Pipeline Mapping System. The Hudson Institute hosts a discussion on the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor network of roads, railways, pipelines and other infrastructure projects.
Thursday – A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee holds a hearing on evolving uses and economic impacts of drones. FMCSA hosts a teleconference meeting of the board of directors for the Unified Carrier Registration Plan.
Friday – TSA holds a meeting of the Aviation Security Advisory Committee. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, as well as Rep. John Carney and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, speak at a General Aviation Manufacturers Association jobs rally in the Diamond State.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration holds a meeting on drones, focusing on privacy and transparency. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission holds an advisory committee meeting to discuss spent fuel storage and transportation.
McCAUL CITES WATCH LISTS, VISA WAIVER AMONG TERRORISM CONCERNS: Weighing in on the U.S. security implications of Friday’s attacks in Paris, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul has been driving home his concerns about the ease with which foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq can slip back into European countries that are a flight away from the United States. During interviews on both Fox News and NBC’s Meet the Press this weekend, the chairman mentioned international watch list checks and the Visa Waiver program the United States uses to allow citizens from 38 countries to apply for visa-free travel to the United States. “You can fly in from Istanbul Airport in Turkey, where the foreign fighters go, and not even be checked past the watch list going into Europe,” McCaul told NBC. “And then when you talk about Visa Wavier countries that can potentially come in the United States with Western passports, that’s where the homeland gets implicated.”
Refugee routes: While investigators have yet to confirm the roots of the men who perpetrated Friday’s bombings and shooting sprees, reports out of Europe claim that at least one of the attackers used refugee status to travel from Syria to Greece and then on to France. In a bipartisan report McCaul’s committee released in September on foreign fighter travel, a panel task force suggested that “extremists who blend in with asylum-seekers and make their way onto the continent could easily obtain European passports within a few short years and have visa-free access to the United States. While the scenario is not the likeliest route for terrorist travel, it is certainly possible, especially since terrorist groups have vowed to exploit weaknesses in refugee routes.”
** A message from CIT: CIT View from the Middleâ„¢ – Aviation infrastructure is at a critical juncture now that Congress passed a temporary measure to reauthorize funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. This video, Runways to Riches: The Importance of Aviation Infrastructure to the Global Economy, explores aviation industry issues. Watch now at bit.ly/1Lepv4x. **
SAFETY LEADERS TICK OFF ISSUES: Hinting that safety proposals for the multiyear transportation plan could be a deal-breaker for some senators, 13 of the chamber’s Democrats have sent a letter asking thier chamber’s leaders to “prevent any rollback of safety or consumer protections” during conference negotiations. As we explained for Pros, the lawmakers warn that action is needed to fend off House changes “in order to avoid any potential erosion of support for the final bill.” Off the Hill, a coalition more than 200 strong has voiced complaints with proposed safety language as well. Our Heather Caygle reports that, “in a letter sent to House and Senate conferees, the groups urged lawmakers to walk back several provisions dealing with the trucking, bus and auto industries before a final bill makes it to the president’s desk.”
SECURITY OFFICIALS WEIGH U.S. RISK AMID PARIS ATTACKS: U.S. intelligence officials have been working since Friday’s multi-venue massacre in France to figure out whether the United States could be the target of a linked attack. And while the Department of Homeland Security has said there’s “no specific or credible threat,” security experts say the U.S. is far from immune to this scale of terrorism, as we reported over the weekend. The risk is especially concerning to those in the transportation sector, since – as we saw with the downing this month of a Russian plane in Egypt – it’s clear that ISIL leaders (like their al Qaeda counterparts) see transportation modes (and planes in particular) as high-value targets.
SHARE A RIDE, SAVE THE PLANET? Our Lauren Gardner reports that NRDC and UC Berkeley are teaming up on a first-of-its-kind research project to look into the climate impacts of ride-hailing resources like Uber and Lyft. The study, which the groups aim to publish next fall, will examine the effects that both ride-sourcing (ordering a Lyft to get to that dinner res) and ride-splitting (like Uber’s new “pool” option to let drivers pick up others along a route for a lower fare) affect climate change. Researchers will collect data from surveys taken by Uber and Lyft users (who will get emails from the companies asking them to participate), as well as information about customers’ ride activity, like ride origin, occupancy level and type of vehicle being used, said Susah Shaheen, UC Berkeley’s lead on the study.
The researchers plan to cast a wide net. They want to see whether this impacts consumers’ decisions to postpone buying (or even just get rid of) their personal vehicles, as well as whether the availability of Uber and Lyft siphon customers away from public transit systems – and thus put more carbon-emitting cars on the road.
MT MAILBAG: A group of 18 senators from Northeastern states has joined to give transportation bill negotiators another nudge to nix House-passed language that would cut into transit funding for high-density regions in order to provide more money for bus programs and facilities. “While many of us support the concept of increasing funding for a discretionary grant program for bus and bus facilities, it makes no sense to slash existing commitments to transit agencies to do so,” the senators wrote to conferees. “The urban areas negatively impacted by the House provision face unparalleled congestion that cannot be addressed by building new highway infrastructure alone.”
THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):
– A lot of what passes for security at airports is more theatrical than real. The Economist.
– Airplane Wi-Fi should soon be somewhat less awful. Bloomberg Business.
– Industry pushes to shape transportation law. The Associated Press.
– Marchers warn of safety crisis amid spate of pedestrian deaths. The New York Times.
– Quiet U.S. ports spark slowdown fears. The Wall Street Journal.
THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 5 days. DOT appropriations run out in 28 days. FAA reauthorization expires in 137 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 357 days.