House and Senate delay vote on transportation reauthorization; House passes ANWAR and Keystone oil and gas drilling - Metropolitan Planning Council

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House and Senate delay vote on transportation reauthorization; House passes ANWAR and Keystone oil and gas drilling

Due to the controversial components of the House Transportation Reauthorization, The House Rules Committee split the bill into three parts for separate votes.  This maneuver allows members who don’t like one part of the bill (decimating transit funding, for example) to vote against that part and approve the other measures.

The three parts are: 

  1. Transportation (H.R. 7), (which includes the Ways and Means Committee bill to eliminate guaranteed funding for transit (H.R. 3864)
  2. Tax on Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline (H.R. 3408)
  3. Requiring federal workers to contribute an additional 1.5 percent of pay to their pensions (H.R. 3813)

H.R. 3408, the tax on drilling, passed the House Thursday night on a vote of 237-187.  The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated revenues from the bill, which will finance transit, will total about $4.3 billion over 10 years. The legislation is not expected to attain wide support in the Senate and is subject to a White House veto.

Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) sponsored an amendment that would restore and make permanent parity between the pre-tax commuter benefits for transit and parking. Illinois Reps. Judy Biggert (R), Dan Lipinski (D), and Mike Quigley (D) are co-sponsors.  When the stimulus passed in 2009, it included parity between transit and parking, but due to inaction by Congress, the transit portion was cut in half – from $230 a month to $125 – when the measure expired Jan. 1, 2012. Meanwhile, the parking benefit increased to $240 a month to account for inflation. Similar language to restore parity is included in the Senate bill. 

Funding issues

The $260 billion five-year House bill continues to be criticized.  It reverses a law signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 by, eliminating dedicated transit funding and shifting that revenue to fund highways.  It also eliminates funding for bicycle and walking programs, allows new highway lanes to be funded with Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality dollars instead of only transit, walking and biking programs under the current law, and ends such discretionary transit funding as the highly successful TIGER program.

The House bill would eliminate the Mass Transit Account, which guarantees funding for public transit. Currently, 2.86 cents per gallon of federal motor fuel taxes goes into the Mass Transit Account. Retroactive to October 1, 2012, that revenue would be transferred to the Highway Account.  The Mass Transit Account would be replaced by the Alternative Transportation Account and funded from the General Fund.  As a result that $40 billion has to be matched by savings elsewhere in the federal budget. Tax revenues from expanded oil drilling in ANWAR and the Keystone XL Pipeline are slated to fund the lost transit potion.  However, those taxes only generate $4.3 billion over 10 years.  What’s more, revenues would not materialize for several years because the infrastructure must be built to begin drilling, including leasing ANWAR land to energy companies.   Republicans have proposed funding the gap by increasing federal workers’ share of pensions by 1.5 percent, which would bring in $40 billion.  However, the payroll tax deal includes $15 billion in savings from pension changes for new federal workers, leaving only $25 billion to fund the House transportation bill. The bottom line? Funding for transit is in danger. 

Illinois representatives Lipinski and Dold have spoken out against ending the gas tax funding for transit.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that due to the volume of amendments - an astounding 300 have been filed - the House will debate and vote on H.R. 7 when members return from recess on Monday, February 27. 

If the House bill becomes law, the Chicago region would lose $1.2 billion over the next five years, including major cuts to public transit and the Illinois Dept. of Transportation. Additionally, the bill would require the Chicago Transit Authority to separate rail and bus operations or lose eligibility for grants that, over the past two years, have generated $80 million for purchasing new busses and rehabbing bus garages.

The Metropolitan Planning Council opposes all three House bills. Tell your representative to vote NO here.

Senate billed stalled

While the House bill has remained extremely partisan, the Senate bill, S. 1318 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) had been moving along smoothly, passing out of the four necessary committees with mostly bi-partisan agreement. Now that the bill has hit the Senate floor, that bi-partisan spirit is wavering. Republican Senators have proposed a number of controversial and unrelated amendments to delay a vote.  For example, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) in an attempt to make a statement on Egypt, has proposed an amendment that would cut off aid to Egypt if nongovernmental employees working with the U.S. government are detained or held in Egypt.  Currently, 19 American civilian members of human rights and pro-democracy groups are detained in the country. Another amendment, proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), would allow employers to opt out of a rule requiring insurance plans to include contraception coverage for women if they have moral objections.

Republicans have said some of the contentious amendments they’ve filed are intended to spark dialogue, including an amendment to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.  Environment and Public Works ranking committee member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has stated, “These are non-germane and these are ones that would require 60 votes and it’s not going to happen in my opinion, but Republicans at least want to continue the public dialogue.“  Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has proposed an amendment similar to the House bill, which would end dedicated gas tax revenues for public transit, shifting that money into roads.

In response to the non-germane amendments, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has “filled the amendment tree,” filling all available amendment slots.  This move requires a cloture vote that would stop debate for 30 hours, and means that amendments to restore dedicated funding for biking and walking programs, the Cardin/Cochran amendment, which would grant local governments, rather than state DOTs, control over the majority of federal bike and pedestrian funding, and the Kirk/Carper amendment, which would expand road tolling and pricing programs providing states greater flexibility to generate transportation revenues, are also put on hold.  You can track these amendments at T4America.

Floor debate will not occur in the Senate until after Monday, February 27, when it returns from the President’s Day recess. 

Update 2/22/12

Senate:  The Senate bill failed a cloture test, 54-42, on Friday, Feb. 17.  Before leaving Friday, Senate Major Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) prepared a new floor amendment that included changes to a freight infrastructure grant program agreed to by committee leaders. The amendment proposes a coordinated national policy for freight and ports. Republicans had opposed the program due to concern it would establish an unfunded discretionary grant program. Further, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) worked with Republicans to change revenues in the bill, including the elimination of a “black liquor” tax credit.  The last hurdle to overcome is agreeing to a final list of amendments.  Reid said that though some of the amendments are non-germane to the bill (aid to Egypt, insurance coverage for contraception) Senators have a right to offer them. 

House:  Though the tax revenue on expanded oil drilling passed the House last week, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has delayed a vote on the actual transportation section of the reauthorization, prompting many to believe the votes are not there to pass the bill.  Some Republican House members from urban districts are seeking changes to the funding aspects of the House bill. Illinois Representatives Judy Biggert (R), Robert Dold (R), and Dan Lipinski (D) want to restore the guaranteed 20 percent share of federal gasoline tax receipts for transit and allow an amendment that would restore and make permanent parity between the pre-tax commuter benefits for transit and parking. Illinois Reps. Judy Biggert (R), Dan Lipinski (D), and Mike Quigley (D) are co-sponsors of the transit pre-tax benefit amendment. 

When Congress returns on February 27 there will only be a little over a month until the March 31 expiration of the current short-term extension.


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