Jacob Fischler

Ryan’s Piecemeal Approach May Keep GOP Infrastructure Push Afloat
But speaker’s strategy of multiple bills could complicate Senate passage

A key piece of the Republicans’ 2018 legislative agenda is shape-shifting.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s pronouncement last week that an infrastructure overhaul will be tackled in multiple bills serves a dual purpose: It keeps hope for one of the president’s top policy priorities alive, while setting more realistic expectations for what will get done this midterm election year.

Thune Clears Path for Long-Term Aviation Bill This Summer
Commerce chairman abandons effort to change how pilot hours are counted

South Dakota Sen. John Thune’s decision to drop a controversial provision on pilot training clears a path for lawmakers to complete a long-term aviation reauthorization bill this summer that addresses drones, aircraft certification, safety and other issues.

Thune, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said last week he was abandoning his effort to change how pilot hours are counted. That came after House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster gave up the week before on spinning off the air traffic control system from the Federal Aviation Administration. Both proposals encountered stiff resistance in Congress.

Ryan Says Infrastructure Overhaul Will Be Done in 5 to 6 Bills
'We don’t want to do one big bill,' speaker says

Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday affirmed House Republicans’ intentions to complete an infrastructure overhaul this year but said that the effort will be broken into pieces. 

“We don’t want to do one big bill,” the Wisconsin Republican said at an event in Georgia with Home Depot employees.

Chao Goes Off the Rails on New York-New Jersey Project

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao came to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to answer questions about the administration’s infrastructure proposal Tuesday. But she spent much of the time confirming and defending the administration’s attempt to kill a New York and New Jersey rail program.

“Is the president of the United States personally intervening with the speaker to kill this project?” asked Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., referring to a weekend report in The Washington Post that President Donald Trump asked Speaker Paul D. Ryan to kill funding for the Gateway Program.

Chao, Senate Democrats Spar on Infrastructure Proposal
Transportation secretary says ask the White House about gas tax increase

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sparred Thursday over environmental requirements and funding in the president’s infrastructure proposal, jousting over the contents of a plan that top Senate Republicans indicated this week isn’t likely to pass this year.

Chao repeatedly defended the plan from charges by committee Democrats that it would strip environmental protections, saying the administration only wanted to improve the process without sacrificing environmental quality. The administration wants to eliminate duplication and allow relevant agencies to conduct environmental reviews simultaneously rather than sequentially, she said.

House Appropriators Ready to Carve Up Budget Deal
Side deal among leaders would divide spending, and could divide members

A side agreement among congressional leaders to allocate some of the new nondefense funding to opioid abuse prevention, infrastructure and several other priorities is complicating the plan to write a fiscal 2018 omnibus.

Even if that weren’t the case, appropriators say they don’t like being micromanaged.

Podcast: Roadblocks to Rebuilding America's Roads and Bridges
CQ on Congress, Episode 89

President Trump says he wants a $1.5 trillion to rebuild America's roads, bridges and other infrastructure, but differences over how to pay for it could prevent his ambitious plan from getting off the ground. CQ transportation reporter Jacob Fischler and budget editor Peter Cohn explain.

Trump Ups Infrastructure Spending Goal, but Offers No Details
White House may not have settled on a plan yet, Democrat says

President Donald Trump laid out a goal at his first State of the Union address Tuesday to spark $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending from public and private sources and couple the new spending with an overhaul of permitting procedures for projects.

Trump spoke in broad strokes throughout the evening, and his brief mention of infrastructure left many questions unanswered about the administration’s long-promised and still undelivered plan. A House Democrat speculated Tuesday after a canceled White House briefing that the administration hadn’t itself settled on the answers.

Trump Adviser Says Infrastructure Push Won’t Have New Revenue
Amtrak, transit programs will be cut instead, he says

White House infrastructure adviser DJ Gribbin told a gathering of the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Thursday that the Trump administration’s upcoming infrastructure proposal will not include any new revenue to pay for $200 billion of new federal spending.

The White House’s proposal, to be released one to two weeks after the Jan. 30 State of the Union address, would be paid for with money from existing transportation programs, Gribbin said, adding that existing formula funding for major programs would not be touched. He later clarified that certain federal transportation money, including for Amtrak and transit programs, would be cut to pay for the program.

Senate Confirms Army Corps Chief
Get-out-of-town vote was overwhelmingly bipartisan

The Senate voted 89-1 Thursday to confirm Rickey Dale “R.D.” James to lead the Army Corps of Engineers, which will serve as the chamber’s get-out-of-town vote after a long haul of days that involved the government shutdown over the weekend. 

Earlier in the week, the chamber had expected to approve James by voice vote on Wednesday before a roll call vote on the nomination was scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Afterward, senators headed for the exits. 

Amid Safety Concerns, Senators Plan Path for Driverless Car Bill
Blumenthal invokes Ralph Nader’s 1965 “Unsafe at Any Speed“

The sponsors of a Senate bill to set the federal framework for driverless vehicles said Wednesday they were making progress on their effort to pass it by unanimous consent. But they resisted calls to amend the measure and said they may pursue a floor vote instead.

After a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee field hearing at the Washington Auto Show, Chairman John Thune told reporters he will continue to work through safety concerns that three Democratic senators had over the bill. But he said he wouldn’t cave to demands that would undermine the purpose of the legislation.

Whiplashed Planners Fear GOP Swerve on Infrastructure
After close call on public-private financing tool, all eyes on 2018

Los Angeles has gained national notice for a series of ambitious projects affecting all facets of southern California’s transportation network, from the city’s light rail system to Los Angeles International Airport.

Many of the projects — a multibillion dollar expansion of the airport, work on roads leading to and from the busy ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and a new light rail line, among others — were or will be financed with a tool called private activity bonds.

Bill Shuster Won’t Run for Re-Election in 2018
Pennsylvania Republican term-limited as Transportation Committee chairman

Updated 4:30 p.m. | Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster, who is term-limited as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will not seek a ninth full term in 2018, leaving behind a safe Republican seat. 

“Rather than focusing on a re-election campaign, I thought it wiser to spend my last year as Chairman focusing 100% on working with President Trump and my Republican and Democratic colleagues in both Chambers to pass a much needed infrastructure bill to rebuild America,” the GOP lawmaker said in a statement Tuesday. 

Senate Tax Bill Could Add Anti-Stadium Bond Provision


Sen. James Lankford offered an amendment to the Republican tax bill in the Senate to eliminate tax breaks for professional sports stadium construction, matching a provision in the House bill.

Tax Bill Eyes End to Project Finance, Stadium Bonds Deductions
Republicans say purpose is to eliminate tax breaks for private entities

The House Republican tax bill unveiled Thursday would eliminate a tax break for a major financing tool for public-private partnerships, one of several bond provisions that would affect projects including professional sports stadiums.

Under the bill, income from private activity bonds, a tool that state and local governments offer to help private entities raise money for projects that are deemed to have public benefit, would no longer be tax exempt. The provision would increase revenue by $38.9 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Thune, Peters Divide Over Big Trucks in Driverless Vehicle Bill
“Highly-automated trucks are not ripe for inclusion”

Members of a key Senate committee are divided over whether to include large trucks in legislation that would guide driverless-vehicle regulation in a disagreement that pits safety against jobs in the trucking industry.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said at a hearing Wednesday that autonomous vehicles will improve safety and lower emissions. He said trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds should be included in the legislation. 

Podcast: Congress Has Air Traffic Control and Passenger Woes on its Radar
The Week Ahead, Episode 61

Lawmakers are debating legislation that would put air traffic control into private hands, provide protections to airline passengers and regulate drones, says CQ's transportation reporter Jacob Fischler. He and transportation editor Randy Walerius explain what's at stake.

Show Notes:

Trump Wants More Interstate Tolling, But Lawmakers Skeptical
Plan would give states more options

President Donald Trump fleshed out his proposal last week to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure by listing tolling on interstate highways as one way to raise funds, but his idea is encountering reluctance in Congress.

Several key lawmakers said they were receptive to the idea, but cited obstacles to moving forward.

Panel Rebukes United, Other Airlines Over Passenger Treatment
‘Something is clearly broken’

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster warned the CEO of United Airlines and other industry executives Tuesday that a hearing into their customers’ experiences wouldn’t be pleasant.

Panel members from both parties followed through, blasting United CEO Oscar Munoz and other representatives of American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines. The hearing came after the release of video showing a passenger being forcibly removed from a United flight in early April so the airline could make room for its employees to fly.

Podcast: The Long Road Ahead to Fixing America’s Infrastructure
The Week Ahead, Episode 50

President Donald Trump wants to invest $1 trillion into the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, tunnels and airports, as well as into drinking water, electric and telecommunications systems, says CQ Roll Call’s transportation reporter Jacob Fischler. But the hurdle to that ambitious agenda is finding the money. Fischler and transportation editor Randy Walerius discuss what role Congress could play in the plan.