The legislation, favorably reported to the House by a 29-21 vote, provides $137.1 billion in budgetary resources and includes $75.8 billion in discretionary funding.
The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved by a 29-21 recorded vote the fiscal year 2020 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill.
The legislation, which was favorably recommended by voice vote May 23 by the T-HUD subcommittee, provides $137.1 billion in budgetary resources and includes $75.8 billion in discretionary funding, which is a $4.7 billion increase over the 2019-enacted level and $17.3 billion above the president’s budget request.
“This year’s bill does represent a positive, inclusive approach for our country that will benefit all Americans,” said Rep. David Price (pictured above), D-N.C., who is the T-HUD subcommittee chairman. “First and foremost, we’re investing in infrastructure. Whatever is going on elsewhere in government, our bill is investing in infrastructure right here, right now — transportation and housing infrastructure, infrastructure broadly conceived.”
A manager’s amendment that “makes technical and noncontroversial changes to the bill and report” was adopted by voice vote, but two additional amendments were struck down by recorded vote.
The committee rejected an amendment by a 29-22 vote that would have removed provisions from the bill that prohibits funds from being used to review and issue a decision on petitions to pre-empt certain state meal and rest break laws; requires the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to make data on the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program publicly available; and prohibits the FMCSA from promoting or enforcing a rule that eliminates the 30-minute rest break.
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., supported the amendment and argued the first provision would create a “patchwork system” and cause a “disruption to the supply chain” as each state would be free to set its own hours of service requirements. He said the data required to publish trucking safety violations has been determined to be flawed by the Government Accountability Office and the National Academy of Sciences.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said, “Imagine if you are coming and have one patchwork in one state, another patchwork in another state, another patchwork in another state. What’s going to happen to the efficiency of that supply chain? … What we’re asking is to make sure we don’t undermine the efficient transportation of U.S. commerce and goods along our interstate highways.”
Price responded by saying a state-by-state approach has been used because “trucking interests have been unsuccessful lobbying Congress for a broad nationwide prohibition on meal and rest breaks.” He said the data collected by the Transportation Department as part of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program has been “determined to be sound” in a study completed by the Nation Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
“We have an obligation to share that crucial safety data with the general public,” Price said. “Without public data, there are insufficient incentives for unsafe carriers to improve their operations.”
In her opening statement, Ranking Member Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, voiced concerns about the Transportation Department being “prevented from modifying vehicle fuel efficiency standards,” but it was not included in an amendment vote.
The committee also voted by a 29-21 recorded vote to not adopt an amendment that would have allowed funds to be pulled back from the California high-speed rail project. Rep. Michael Simpson, R- Idaho, said the removal of the provision would allow the Transportation Department to reallocate $929 million to merit-worthy rail projects across the nation.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., argued in favor of the amendment, saying, “The concept of limiting the ability of our agencies to pull back funds from projects that have failed to deliver on their grant agreements, that’s what we’re dealing with here.”
Price said diverting money from the California high-speed rail project is not the way to invest in other passenger rail projects. He said the Federal Railroad Administration has been slow to award money to eligible projects and has sat on more than $1.3 billion for the past three fiscal years.
“FRA’s programs are under high demand, for sure, but it doesn’t seem to be able to manage to award $1.3 billion, so how can we expect that they would handle $2.2 billion?” Price asked.
Granger said her greatest concern is that appropriations bill has been written to unrealistic top-line funding. Diaz-Balart, like in the T-HUD subcommittee markup, said the major hurdle that stands in the way of progress on the legislation is the lack of “a top-level budget agreement between the House, the Senate that can be signed by the president.”
Diaz-Balart, the T-HUD subcommittee ranking member, said, “This is a good bill, but unfortunately the numbers that it’s built on are artificial numbers.”
He added, “Again, I’m confident that this bill, which is so critical to our economy and our communities, can move forward quickly with bipartisan support once that top-line number deal is struck.”