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11-17-2014 Federal Transportation Briefing

The lame duck session of the 113th Congress began last week, with the main action taking place in closed-door meetings and leadership elections in which the current line-up was largely retained. However, when the 114th session begins in January, Senator McConnell and Senator Reid will switch places as Majority and Minority leader due to Republican gains in the mid-terms. Still to come are changes to committees, including the selection of chair and ranking member for each.

Neither Senator McConnell nor Representative Boehner (returning Speaker of the House) mentioned transportation during press conferences outlining their agendas for next session, but several related issues are looming, including reauthorization of surface transportation, aviation and passenger rail programs.

Annual Appropriations
Meanwhile, the lame duck Congress must confront FY 2015 appropriations since, without further action, funding for transportation and other government agencies and programs will end Dec. 11, 2014. Also, the administration has requested emergency funding for activities related to Ebola, ISIS, and child migrants at the southwest border.

Both Senator Mikulski and Senator Rogers, current chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, have championed an omnibus for the rest of the fiscal year, since most of the 12 bills in the package have been written, and some have passed out of committee or even one chamber. For instance, the House passed its Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) bill, HR 4745, in June, and the Senate version has received committee approval. One of the biggest differences between the two proposals involves the funding level and scope of the competitive TIGER grant program. Rep. Latham, who chairs the House Appropriations T-HUD subcommittee, says the two chambers will work to reconcile the differences in the TIGER language this week.

Another option is a full-year Continuing Resolution (CR), which would also “clear the decks” and allow the 114th Congress to focus on new business. However, it would lock agencies into last year’s funding categories and levels.

Gaining momentum toward the end of last week was a push for a short-term CR to keep the government funded just long enough for the new, Republican-controlled Congress to write and enact an entirely new omnibus package.

Complicating the situation, however, is the threat by some members to encumber any proposed funding legislation with riders related to issues such as immigration and EPA rules on waterways. The stalemate that could result would have the potential to lead to another shut-down of the federal government.
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Funding/authorization expiration dates:
Dec. 11, 2014 – transportation appropriations “Continuing Resolution” (H.J. Res. 124)
Sept. 30, 2019 - water resource and development programs (WRRDA of 2014)
Sept. 30, 2013 - passenger rail and freight safety programs (PRIIA of 2008)
May 31, 2015 - surface transportation programs (MAP-21 extension, in HR 5021)
Sept. 30, 2015 - aviation programs (Air Transportation Modernization & Safety Improvement Act, 2012)

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