The House bill provides $44.1 billion in discretionary spending – a reduction of $7.7 billion below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and $13.9 billion below the President’s budget request. This level is approximately $4.4 billion below the level caused by automatic sequestration cuts for these programs. For Transportation, H.R. 2610 provides $15.3 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Transportation for fiscal year 2014. This is $2.6 billion (-15%) below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and $7.4 billion below the President’s request.
The Senate bill includes proposed budget authority of $54.0 billion, $2.3 billion more than the 2013 enacted level. Total funding, including limitations on obligations related to programs funded by the Highway Trust Fund, is $107.5 billion. Excluding disaster funding, the total funding level is $3.1 billion, or 3.0 percent, above the equivalent 2013 enacted level. Senate Appropriations chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) sees the THUD bill as the ideal contrast between the drastic domestic spending cuts forced on House appropriators by the Ryan budget and the much more generous spending levels assumed under the Senate-passed budget blueprint.
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill could face significant hurdles on the floor. The House problem is more obvious – the bill’s cuts to community development grants, Amtrak grants, and capital programs throughout DOT and HUD are so severe under the House bill that is unlikely that any Democrats will vote for the bill on final passage. GOP leaders must therefore keep the total number of GOP “no” votes on the bill to 16 or fewer. This is a difficult balancing act – it requires negotiations with the far-right, vote-no-on-all-spending-measures wing of the Republican Conference and it also means keeping the dwindling number of Northeast and other big-city suburban Republicans from voting “no” on the bill because of the Amtrak or HUD cuts or because of any specific issues anywhere in the bill.
Why does this matter – Programs funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation are some of the principal funding sources for all major transportation infrastructure projects and facilitate the movement of goods and people throughout the country. Most of the largest programs are funded through special use taxes such as the “gas tax” and the “airline ticket tax”. However these use taxes are no longer keeping up with the infrastructure needs of the nation and other sources of funding such as “General Revenues” are increasingly being used. This puts infrastructure funding in direct conflict with other critical national priorities. The debate that will play out between the House and Senate levels are a perfect microcosm of the broader budget debates that the nation faces. How they resolve themselves will be very interesting to see.
2. Meltdown avoided. Senate leaders reached a tentative deal to avert the so-called nuclear option to change the chamber’s rules on executive nominees on July 16th. This action cleared the way for Gina McCarthy’s to head U.S. EPA. Under the deal to avoid the nuclear option, votes on five nominees would be allowed to go forward – including Cabinet nominations such as Gina McCarthy as EPA administrator and Thomas Perez as Labor secretary and two recess appointments for National Labor Relations Board Members will be withdrawn and replaced. McCarthy’s nomination was brought July 18th and she was confirmed by a vote of 59-40.
Why does this matter – Besides the macro political and somewhat inside baseball debates about Senate Rules and privileges, the confirmation of Gina McCarthy at EPA and all that has gone into getting her nomination ready for Senate Consideration could have a large impact on how open and transparent EPA will be going forward. The Administration has made numerous assurances that past practices, such as factious names for email accounts of senior EPA officials in order to avoid scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act will not continue. We shall see.
3. Coast Guard to finalize Rules for Oil Spill Response Plans for Non Tank Vessels under the Oil Pollution Act – The Coast Guard in July is scheduled to finalize arulemaking that would establish regulations requiring owners or operators of nontank vessels to prepare and submit oil spill response plans. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act defines nontank vessels as self-propelled vessels of 400 gross tons or greater that operate on the navigable waters of the United States, carry oil of any kind as fuel for main propulsion, and are not tank vessels. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposed to specify the content of a response plan, and among other issues, address the requirement to plan for responding to a worst case discharge and a substantial threat of such a discharge. Additionally, the NPRM proposed to update International Shipboard Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (SOPEP) requirements that apply to certain nontank vessels and tank vessels. Finally, the NPRM proposed to require vessel owners and operators to submit their vessel response plan control number as part of the notice of arrival information.
Why does it Matter – These rules are required under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA). This rulemaking was first published in August of 2009 almost a year before the “Deepwater Horizon” oil spill and it has undergone significant public input. The rule is one of the first tests of how the Coast Guard and other regulatory agencies will react to oil pollution requirements after the 2010 spill. The “Deepwater Horizon” was the first really major spill in U.S. waters since the passage of the OPA. Remember it was the public and political outcry from the 1989 “EXXON VALDEZ” oil spill that led to passage of OPA. It will be interesting to see the final rule and gage its impact.