House Committee Set to Vote Tonight on Slew of Transpo Bill Amendments

The House Rules Committee is now considering the GOP’s transportation proposal, deciding how it will be debated on the House floor this week. That means they’ll be sifting through the several hundred amendments to the bill that have already been proposed, and decide how many of them — if any — will be voted on.

David Dreier (R-CA), Chairman of the House Rules Committee. The transportation bill his Committee votes on tonight has become a hodgepodge of ideological extremes. Photo: Inland Politics

The most dramatic amendment, proposed by a bipartisan group of 14 representatives including New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler and Ohio Republican Steven LaTourette, would essentially negate the GOP leadership’s attack on transit, restoring the current 2.87-cent share of the federal gas tax for transit. The odds of passage are very low, but if it succeeds, the amendment would change the flavor of the bill considerably, and it would have to be seen whether the bill’s Republican authors would even be willing to move forward after that.

There’s a little bit of everything in this long list of amendments. Deron Lovaas, federal transportation policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, pointed out a few with the greatest potential for harm:

  • #77, sponsored by Paul Broun (R-GA) would zero out all transportation spending if it were found that the Highway Trust Fund is not insufficient to support all the programs in H.R. 7 — which, we learned yesterday, it’s not. Other amendments proposed by Broun would zero out funding for all of Amtrak’s routes except the Northeast Corridor, and would forbid federally-funded projects from enforcing certain minimum wage requirements.
  • #122, sponsored by John Culberson (R-TX), would require any transit agency to maintain a debt-to-equity ratio of 1:1 in order to receive federal funds, essentially a de-funding of transit cloaked in a deceptive aura of fiscal responsibility. (It could also be aimed at a very specific local project.)
  • #68, sponsored by Tom Graves (R-GA) would gradually devolve all transportation spending power to the states, which Lovaas said would be “turning back the clock to well before the Eisenhower era.” Scott Garrett (R-NJ) and James Lankford’s (R-OK) amendment 11 would do essentially the same thing with a two-state pilot program.
  • #137, sponsored by Mike Pompeo (R-KS), would prevent the federal government from regulating the hydraulic fracturing natural gas extraction process, one of many amendments that curtail federal environmental regulations or review processes.

For each amendment that would, in Lovaas’s words, “make the worst transportation bill ever even worse,” there are some that, like the Nadler-La Tourette amendment, strive to right some of the bill’s (many) wrongs:

  • #192, sponsored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), would restore the Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality Improvement Program to the surface transportation program and restore its dedicated share of STP funding.
  • #56, sponsored by Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), would restore funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects through the Transportation Enhancements program.
  • #146, sponsored by Donna Edwards (D-MD), would preserve the funding formula factors for growing and high-density states. As written, the bill would put denser areas at a disadvantage.
  • #23, sponsored by Steve Israel (D-NY) would “reinstate parity between commuter benefits for parking and mass transit offered to employees.” It is the counterpart to the Schumer amendment to S.1813 in the Senate. Amdt. #278 from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) would do the same, though only until 2013.
  • #16, sponsored by La Tourette and Russ Carnahan (D-MO) would allow transit agencies to flex some of their federal dollars to help cover operating expenses. A similar provision is also present in the Senate bill.

Some amendments just take the form of earmarks, but blocking projects instead of funding them. Amendment 126, proposed by Texas’s Culbertson, would forbid the use of federal funds on a very specific light rail project in his suburban Houston district, unless voters approved it by referendum. Others simply express a “sense of Congress,” non-binding and unenforceable position statements that do little more than make a point.

The bill has already become such a hodgepodge of ideologies that even if it does pass and goes to a conference committee alongside the Senate bill, it may not go anywhere. “Unless they’re willing to start from scratch it’s hard to see where they get,” said NRDC’s government affairs director David Goldston. The Senate, which has pursued bipartisanship at every turn, is “what people expect of government, but the House looks like a splinter group political convention.”

Scott Slesinger, NRDC’s legislative affairs director, added that “Senate Republicans and Democrats alike are looking at the House bill as a non-starter.”