The House of Representatives Nov. 5 voted 363 to 64 to approve legislation that would reauthorize the federal highway and public transportation programs through FY 2021. While support for the measure was overwhelming and bipartisan, opposition came largely from the extremely conservative wing of the House Republican caucus. Perhaps most importantly, the House included a Highway Trust Fund (HTF)-related amendment that has the potential to change the dynamics of the reauthorization process as it moves forward.
The package approved by the House was a combination of the surface transportation reauthorization and policy reform bill approved by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee in October and the three-year HTF revenue plan approved by the Senate in July. The intent of this commingling was to produce legislation that—like its Senate counterpart—would authorize highway and transit investment levels for six years, but only generate enough new HTF resources to fund the first three years of those authorizations. While the House bill provides essentially status quo investment levels adjusted annually for inflation, the Senate bill would lead to modest program growth beyond the maintenance of purchasing power.
However, shortly before approving the legislation, the House adopted 354-72 an amendment by Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) that struck two of the Senate revenue generating provisions that accounted for roughly $19 billion—or more than half—of the new HTF revenue supplied under the Senate proposal. In their place, the amendment would generate $59 billion by requiring the liquidation of the Federal Reserve’s surplus capital account and deposits those funds into the general fund of the U.S. Treasury.
As a result of the Neugebauer Amendment, the House legislation would produce $40 billion more in new revenue than the Senate-passed highway/transit bill. This net amount is projected to be sufficient to support either the full six-years of surface transportation funding under the House proposal or a shorter duration bill at investment levels exceeding those approved by the Senate. Before debate between those two approaches begins—and we highly expect it will—the surplus $40 billion from the Neugebauer Amendment must by locked down for dedication to the HTF.
Shortly after final passage, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee named its negotiators to reconcile its proposal with the Senate. They include:
Republicans: Bill Shuster, Pa.; Jimmy Duncan, Tenn.; Sam Graves, Mo.; Rick Crawford, Ark.; Lou Barletta, Pa.; Blake Farenthold, Texas, Jeff Denham, Calif., Reid Ribble, Wis.; Scott Perry, Pa.; Rob Woodall, Ga.; John Katko, N.Y.; Bob Gibbs, Ohio, Brian Babin, Texas; Cresent Hardy, Nev.; and Garret Graves, La.
Democrats: Peter DeFazio, Ore.; Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.; Jerrold Nadler, N.Y.; Corrine Brown, Fla.; Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas; Elijah Cummings, Md.; Rick Larsen, Wash.; Michael Capuano, Mass.; Grace Napolitano, Calif.; Daniel Lipinski, Ill.; Steve Cohen, Tenn.; and Albio Sires, N.J.
Other participants in those discussions from the relevant House and Senate committees should be named in the coming days. Then, an already unpredictable reauthorization process will begin a whole new chapter. Stay tuned!