By Dean Franks, vice president, congressional affairs, ARTBA
Congress reconvenes Sept. 5 for a month packed with must-pass legislative items, including several transportation-related matters. The task is even tougher because the House and Senate have each scheduled a week off at the end of the month.
Ensuring federal agencies and programs are funded once the fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and raising the nation’s borrowing limit, often called the debt ceiling, are top priorities. The House has passed four of the 12 FY 2018 appropriations bills. It is scheduled to consider the final eight in one legislative package during its first week back. But there will not be time this month for the Senate to pass its bills and allow both chambers to conference them together.
Therefore, a continuing resolution will be needed to keep the government open for business, including federal transportation program funding, beyond Sept. 30. What remains to be seen is how long the funding extension lasts, and whether it includes any controversial provisions that could prevent bipartisan passage.
The debt ceiling debate will be similar. How much borrowing authority is approved will determine the next time Congress must deal with this issue. (Keep in mind next year’s mid-term elections.) Once again, if any controversial measures are attached to the package, there is a chance congressional leaders may not be able to gather the votes to overcome objections.
Congress has failed to pass a new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization law, and the current extension expires Sept. 30. The Senate Commerce Committee and House Transportation & Infrastructure Committees have passed bills to begin the process. The Senate legislation is bipartisan and likely could pass if given enough of the limited time on the Senate floor. The House bill is more controversial because it includes language to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system, which is objectionable to most Democrats and some Republicans.
Getting an FAA authorization through both chambers and agreed to before Oct. 1 is highly unlikely. So, the focus turns to another extension, and for how long.
As if that isn’t enough, a federal disaster relief package for hurricane-ravaged Texas and Louisiana must be addressed. Some preliminary federal aid for infrastructure is on its way to the region.
Beyond these “must pass” legislative challenges, Congress is also slated to take up federal tax reform legislation this fall. ARTBA members and staff have been lobbying Congress for years to include a permanent Highway Trust Fund user fee solution as part of any tax reform legislation.
ARTBA will keep its membership updated throughout this critical fall legislative season.