Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Congress: Getting Down to Business?

In theory, there's a lot of work that Congress needs to do this month, relative to transportation.

The current extension of the SAFETEA-LU surface transportation authorization expires on Sept 30, along with the federal government's authority to collect the motor fuel taxes and other fees that support the nation's highway and transit funding programs. While the White House and Transportation Secretary LaHood and among those who've have raised the level of concern about what could happen if these authorizations were allowed to lapse, the prevailing sentiments from Congress, including House Transportation & Infrastructure committee chair John Mica [R-Fla.], are that there will be another short extension of current authorizations, which may be followed up by an honest-to-gosh reauthorization effort (drafting of this legislation already is taking place in the Senate, and is being discussed in earnest in the House). This week, in fact, a short-term SAFETEA-LU extension is working its way through the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.

The Capitol Hill news media are going to be paying a lot of attention to the "Super Committee" (officially known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) that is tasked with recommending debt and deficit containment measures that would influence federal budgeting for FY 2013 and beyond, if all goes according to plan. Despite the certain media spotlight over the ruminations and actions of this committee, bear in mind that their work is not expected to affect FY 2012 spending.

Meanwhile, action on FY 2012 appropriations is happening, a little bit on the edge of the spotlight. At this point (especially with that fiscal year beginning in just over three weeks), the anticipated end result will be some form of catch-all, or "omnibus" spending measure for the year, as has been the case in almost every recent federal fiscal year's appropriations. However, the race is on in both the House and Senate appropriations committees to move as far and fast as they can on next year's appropriations, as their work, no matter how far along it's progressed, will inform the final product on FY 2012 spending.

With respect to those FY 2012 appropriations most directly affecting public transportation and its partners in coordination, here's this week's status report, as reported in the Library of Congress' "Thomas" web site:

  • Transportation-HUD: House appropriations subcommittee markup set for Sept 8; no Senate action
  • Labor-HHS-Education: possible House appropriations subcommittee consideration Sept 9; no Senate action
  • Military Construction-VA: H.R. 2055 passed House June 14, passed Senate July 20, awaiting House-Senate conference or negotiation
  • Agriculture: H.R. 2112 passed House June 16; Senate Appropriations full committee markup set for Sept 7
  • Homeland Security: H.R. 2017 passed House June 2; Senate Appropriations full committee markup set for Sept 7
  • Commerce-Justice-Science: H.R. 2596 reported out of House Appropriations committee July 13; no Senate action
  • Interior-Environment: H.R. 2584 reported out of House Appropriations committee July 13; no Senate action

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