As lawmakers entered the final legislative week before the August recess, transportation advocates were optimistic that the House and Senate would complete work on Transportation, Housing, & Urban Development (THUD) appropriation bills (S. 1243; H.R. 2610).
However, in what epitomized the contentious nature of the past eight months, lawmakers left town with both chambers failing to complete work on the bills as interparty squabbles and partisan bickering got in the way of compromise and legislating.
The Senate THUD bill, which contained $54 billion in funding, largely ignored the spending caps negotiated during in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (the sequestration law). While the bill had the bipartisan support of THUD Subcommittee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-Maine), Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) organized the entire Republican conference on the Senate floor (except Collins) in opposition to the legislation, preventing it from overcoming the 60-vote threshold to bypass a filibuster.
In the House, H.R. 2610 appropriates $44.1 billion for fiscal year 2015 to the Transportation and Housing & Urban Development Departments, a $4.4 billion cut to current, post-sequestration levels – the lowest amount in seven years and nearly $10 billion less than the Senate version. Scoffed at by the Democratic caucus and GOP moderates, House Republican leaders pulled the legislation from the floor on July 30 to save face.
Congress has limited days in session before the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30), so it likely won’t revisit the THUD appropriation bills next month. Instead, lawmakers will focus on the arduous task of completing a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.
Hours of Service rules roped into THUD discussion
In the House, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) led an effort during consideration of H.R. 2610 to prevent enforcement of a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) final rule changing regulations governing hours of service (HOS) requirements for truckers.
The most controversial element of the new rules, which went into effect on July 1, changes the 34-hour restart requirement. After working for 60 hours in a week, drivers must now rest for 34 hours before working again. The regulations require that 34-hour period to include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. It also requires 30 minutes of off-duty rest for every eight hours of driving in one day. Off-duty rest doesn’t include time spent doing paperwork or maintaining a truck.
Meanwhile, efforts in the courts regarding the new HOS rules hit a roadblock on Aug. 2, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit largely upheld the regulations. The court did modify the 30-minute break requirement as it applies to short-haul drivers, although the exact impact of the decision won’t be known until FMSCA publishes its interpretation of the ruling, definition of short-haul, and related changes in the Federal Register. The new HOS regulations remain enforceable until further notice.
AED is coordinating with construction industry colleagues, Rep. Hanna, and other allies on Capitol Hill to determine next steps on the HOS front. One possibility is legislation to force FMCSA to re-open and adjust the rule to ensure it meets safety objectives while not creating unnecessary burdens or inefficiencies for industry.