It’s Crunch Time for Congress

With the remaining days of the year quickly winding down, Congress has a very short window to address a legislative pileup.

Congress has not yet reached agreement on spending levels for government agencies, with the current extension ending on December 8.  There is likely to be an extension for another few weeks or even until early January.   Negotiations have been challenging, as they include spending levels as well as a resolution to the end of the DACA immigration policy for young people—so a government shutdown is not out of the picture.

Republicans are also trying to complete a tax cut and reform package by year’s end.  The House has already passed their version, and the Senate’s bill is expected to be considered this week.  While the tax bills are not primarily focused on transportation, there are some impacts that will be felt in the transportation world if tax cuts are passed.

First and foremost, both tax bills would add to the federal deficit, making it more challenging to find funding to shore up the highway trust fund or to move forward on an infrastructure package.  Second, each version of the tax bill has different impacts on transportation policy.  The Senate bill would repeal the bicycle portion of the commuter benefit.  The House bill would make the commuter benefit less attractive for employers to offer, eliminate the tax credit for electric vehicles, and end the tax benefits of some bonds often used to help finance big infrastructure projects.  While time is short, there are significant differences between the House and Senate tax bills, and it is unclear what the final package will look like – and whether the votes are there to pass it.

Finally, Congress continues to work on legislation to provide a framework for the rollout of automated vehicles (AVs).  As my colleague Holly Nickel recently blogged about, the current version of this legislation would pre-empt the ability of cities and states to regulate automated vehicles and would preclude cities from requiring the makers of AVs to provide data on how the vehicles are performing and whether there are any safety risks to people.  The House bill has already passed, and the Senate bill is likely to be considered in December.

Over at the US Department of Transportation, the Safe Routes Partnership recently asked the agency to reconsider their approach on two separate issues.  First, USDOT is moving forward with their effort to strip any targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from state performance measures.  We believe this is short-sighted, as transportation is the single largest contributor of greenhouse gasses.  In our comments, we asked USDOT not to eliminate this measure, as all state DOTs should be measuring the impact of transportation on GHGs and working to reduce tailpipe emissions and to shift more people out of cars and onto transit, biking and walking.

Second, USDOT released a draft of their 2018-2022 strategic plan.  It unfortunately is short on goals and strategies specific to active transportation, equity, and environmental sustainability.  We wrote to USDOT to ask them to add new strategies focused on reducing safety risks to vulnerable users, lowering speed limits to reduce speed-related crashes, and improving access to affordable transportation options, among other suggestions.

Of course, we cannot close a federal policy blog without mention of the infrastructure package that the Trump Administration has talked about for months.  At this point, no additional details have been released, and it won’t be considered until after a tax package is completed.  Though recently, President Trump has added welfare reform to his list of priorities to address after a tax package, so it remains to be seen if an infrastructure package will ever see the light of day.