House clears six-year TEA-21 renewal bill

From Transact.org:
House Action: Today, the U.S. House of Representatives approved its TEA-21 renewal bill (H.R. 3550), providing $275 billion in federal funding for highways, bridges, transit and safety programs over six years. Of this total, about $51.5 billion is guaranteed for transit programs, $217 billion for highway programs and the remaining funds for certain research, safety and other activities.

See STPP President Anne Canby's statement on the legislation.

The full House of Representatives approved H.R. 3550 on a 357-65 vote, despite the Bush Administration's clear statement of opposition to the bill, objections that focused on the bill's funding level and provisions that forcing Congress to "reopen" the law and raise additional funds next year. See the Administration's Statement of Policy on H.R. 3550.

Prior to floor action, the House Rules Committee heard from House Members who wanted to offer 59 amendments to the bill. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sought permission to offer an amendment to guarantee clean air funding to local areas under the CMAQ program, but the Committee did not allow her amendment. During the House floor debate, however, she did get a commitment from one of Committee leaders to revisit the underspending of CMAQ dollars and related issues in a future bill, such as a technical corrections bill or the reopener bill next year.

In the end, the Rules Committee made 23 amendments in order, which were subsequently debated and disposed of during two days of deliberations on the bill. While a handful of amendments were accepted by Committee leaders during floor action, most were defeated, either by voice vote or by recorded vote. One that was accepted was another Johnson amendment that requires the Federal Highway Administration to report annually to the public on the use of federal transportation funds by the states.

The House did approve a large "Managers' Amendment" that included additional changes and modifications to the Committee-adopted bill that passed last week in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In this package were provisions that provided for the additional revenues for the bill as well as provions negotiated with the House Science Committee on the research title including a strengthening of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). The package provided additional member project earmarks and some support for short line railroads. There were further revisions to environmental provisions of the bill, such as the inclusion of a 5-state pilot program on NEPA delegation that is limited to ITS and Transportation Enhancement projects. On clean air, areas are given 12 months before a conformity lapse occurs and there is a requirement that the MPO and air agency must agree before the current 20-year conformity horizon in long-term plans is reduced to 10 years. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) was able to secure a $9 million ($1.5 million annually) pilot program to support innovations by MPOs and states in improving their planning and public engagement efforts in the managers' amendment.

Next Steps for the Bill: The House is now in recess for two weeks for the Easter Holiday, with the Senate scheduled to out for just one of the two weeks. During the break, Committee staff will review differences between the House and Senate bills in preparation for negotiations between House and Senate transportation leaders. After the Easter recess, each chamber must appoint a small delegation of Senators and Representatives, known as conferees, who will work to develop a consensus bill (i.e. conference agreement). Once an agreement is reached, the House and Senate must approve a conference agreement before it goes to the President for his signature.

An immediate concern for Congress upon returning from the Easter recess is how to address the looming expiration of TEA-21, which occurs on April 30. The conferees will be unable to finish their work by April 30 so a further extension will be needed.