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November 29, 2018 3:15 PM, EST

Border Funding Complicates Freight Policy as Congress Tries to Avoid Shutdown

Border Funding Schumer (C-Span)

A year-end funding bill that is likely to include provisions related to electronic logging devices and autonomous cars is almost finalized. Yet, disputes surrounding security along the border with Mexico as well as tensions over an investigation into the 2016 presidential election are complicating spending talks.

On Dec. 7, funding authority will expire for the U.S. Department of Transportation, as well as eight other federal departments and agencies with jurisdiction over the country’s environmental and financial policies.

Eager to wrap up the lame-duck session, congressional Republican leaders who manage legislation in the House and Senate say they want to avoid a shutdown ahead of the funding deadline. That position is shared by Democrats in the minority caught in the tense negotiations about the role Congress should play in erecting additional barriers along the Mexican border.

If a deal is not reached on the fiscal 2019 full-year funding measures, or a short-term funding bill, a shutdown could occur. At this point, funding leaders note their optimism and point to the potential of an agreement on a funding bill.

“We don’t want to have a shutdown. I have no interest in doing that. That makes no sense,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Nov. 29, adding, however, “I would like to see progress on border security.”

If Congress opts to consider House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2019 transportation funding legislation, policy on ELDs likely would advance.

Border Funding

A livestock hauler. (raymondclarkeimages/Flickr)

Both versions include a similar provision that would deny funding for the ELD mandate for a certain sector of the livestock haulers industry. Representatives from that sector consistently raised concerns about ELD rules before Congress this year. The mandate took effect in December 2017, requiring commercial carriers to equip trucks with ELDs as a way to record hours of service.

Autonomous policy also could advance in the lame-duck session.

A bipartisan group of senators have been pressing the chamber’s leadership to attach to the must-pass year-end funding bill an autonomous vehicle measure that has been stuck in the Senate for several months, senior aides told Transport Topics Nov. 29. The bill is meant to allow developers to test and market vehicles.

Several Senate Democrats delayed negotiations on the autonomous vehicle bill over safety concerns. The House advanced its version earlier this year and neither the House nor Senate versions include provisions directly related to trucking policy.

President Donald Trump is engaging in year-end funding discussions insisting must-pass legislation include robust funding for a wall along the southern border, which he said repeatedly during his campaign would be paid for by Mexico.

The House GOP caucus recently cemented its support for Trump’s $5 billion request for the border, an amount vehemently rejected by Senate Democrats. The Senate has agreed to allocate $1.6 billion.

Border Funding

Ryan discusses border security. (C-Span)

“The $1.6 billion for border security negotiated by Democrats and Republicans is our position. We believe that is the right way to go,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Nov. 27. “If there’s any shutdown, it’s on President Trump’s back. First, left to our own devices, the Senate and House could come to an agreement. Second, the Republicans are in control of the presidency, the House and the Senate. A shutdown is on their back. Stick to the $1.6 billion.”

Additionally, Democrats continue to look to ensure special counsel Robert Mueller is able to carry out an investigation into the 2016 presidential contest. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is on a path toward the speakership next year, called on Republicans to support such a provision in the year-end funding bill so “the special counsel cannot be fired without cause.”

On Nov. 28, the Senate blocked a bill sponsored by outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) seeking to provide safeguards for Mueller’s investigation. Trump is a vocal critic of the probe into his election victory.

If Trump’s border wall request is unmet, the potential of a veto would be heightened and a shutdown likely would follow. In the event of a shutdown, some funding would be disrupted for DOT regulators, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.