By Dean Franks, senior vice president for congressional relations, ARTBA
The White House and congressional leaders continue to spar over a new round of COVID-19 relief legislation two weeks after the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits and other aid approved in the spring. Their feuding creates uncertainty for millions of hard-hit Americans and threatens much-needed funding for state transportation departments (DOTs) and public transportation agencies.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), U.S. Treasury Department Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had been meeting daily. They reached an impasse Aug. 10 over the monetary size and scope of the new legislation. Democrats are negotiating from the House bill passed in mid-May with over $3 trillion in relief, including $15 billion for state DOTs and $15 billion for transit. Senate Republicans July 27 offered a $1 trillion package without any aid for surface transportation, but includes $10 billion for airports.
Over the past week President Donald Trump complicated the negotiations by signing executive orders to expand unemployment insurance, delay payroll tax and student loan payments, and halt residential evictions. The president also said he does not want the relief bill to provide emergency funding to the U.S. Postal Service, a priority for Democrats who want voters to have mail-in ballots to avoid going to the polls in person during the health crisis.
There are signs that some back-channel outreach may be ongoing, though a deal remained elusive as of Aug. 14. Barring a break in the deadlock, the week of Aug. 31 is the soonest negotiators are likely to reconvene on Capitol Hill. ARTBA will continue advocating for Congress to backfill the $37 billion in state DOT revenues the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) projects will be lost through Fiscal Year 2023 due to the pandemic.
Both political parties will hold presidential nominating conventions over the next two weeks.
The Democrats are up first, beginning Aug. 17. Presumptive nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden Aug. 12 announced the selection of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate. She has not served on a committee with jurisdiction over transportation policy issues during her four years in the Senate. As a presidential candidate, Harris called for increased investment in public transportation to lower vehicle miles traveled and environmental impacts from automobiles.
The Republican convention begins Aug. 24, with President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence accepting their party’s support for reelection. Both conventions are mostly television events this year because of the pandemic.