Funding Disagreements Dominate Congressional Debate
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Varying perspectives on Capitol Hill regarding federal funding priorities point to potential disruptions at certain agencies, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said recently.
At a press conference at the U.S. Department of Transportation on Sept. 27, the secretary cautioned that elements of the transportation system, especially aviation programs, would be affected absent a continuation of funding.
Congressional leaders and a group of conservative Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have yet to resolve their differences specific to funding priorities. Federal funding authority expires Sept. 30. Without a funding agreement by that deadline, a partial federal shutdown will commence.
“After everything that we have been through. After all of the disruptions to air travel, especially the ones that we saw last year, we have finally seen cancellations and delays get back down to normal levels. In fact, we’ve seen cancellations go to a level now that is lower than it was before the pandemic,” Buttigieg told reporters at the department’s headquarters in Washington.
“A shutdown would stop all of that progress. It would mean we would immediately have to stop training new air traffic controllers and furlough another 1,000 controllers who are already in the training pipeline,” the secretary said. He added for emphasis: “Even a shutdown lasting a few days could mean we would not hit our staffing and hiring targets next year.”
A week earlier, Buttigieg told reporters on Capitol Hill, “A shutdown would be a really difficult situation.”
At FAA, a shutdown would result in a pause of random drug testing of the nonsafety workforce, facility security inspections and routine personnel security background investigations, per the department’s “Plans for Operations During a Lapse in Annual Appropriations And/or Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Plans by Operating Administration,” which it unveiled Aug. 3.
Other transportation agencies, however, would continue to operate temporarily during a partial government shutdown. According to background information U.S. DOT provided, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration “has sufficient balances of liquidating cash to operate during a short-term lapse of annual appropriations.”
Sept. 29 Developments
McCarthy's last-ditch plan to keep the federal government temporarily open collapsed as hard-right holdouts rejected the package, making a shutdown almost certain.
McCarthy’s right-flank Republicans refused to support the bill despite its steep spending cuts of nearly 30% to many agencies and severe border security provisions, calling it insufficient.
The White House and Democrats rejected the Republican approach as too extreme. The vote was 198-232, with 21 hard-right Republicans voting to sink the package. The Democrats voted against it.
The agency tasked with regulating commercial trucks and buses is funded primarily by the Highway Trust Fund, an account backed by revenue from federal taxes on gas and diesel fuel.
Stakeholders, meanwhile, are raising concerns about the likelihood of funding disruptions to the transportation system.
“We strongly urge expeditious passage of a full-year Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations bill … to avoid funding disruption — whether due to a lapse in appropriations or through a series of continuing resolutions — that can impact this important work of steadily investing in our national transportation system,” the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials wrote to congressional leaders Sept. 21.
Both the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2024 transportation funding bill would dedicate nearly $1 billion for FMCSA. Neither chamber has scheduled a final vote on the legislation.
House Republican leaders engaged in funding negotiations have called on the White House and their Senate counterparts to address myriad policy concerns. “When I became speaker, I wanted to change how Washington works,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Sept. 26. “The Senate would never even bring appropriation bills through committee.”
I just took to the Senate floor to advance the bipartisan CR bill.
The only option to avoid a shutdown is bipartisanship.
That’s what we’re doing in the Senate to prevent a MAGA House Republican shutdown that would be irresponsible and deeply damaging. — Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) September 28, 2023
In a last-minute attempt to avert a shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on colleagues to approve a short-term funding bill. The Democrats’ measure would fund federal operations through Nov. 17.
“A reckless shutdown will serve no purpose except for hard-right partisans whose only goal is to grind the gears of government down and promote extremism. It will cause grave harm for communities across the country,” the Senate leader said Sept. 27. “A reckless shutdown will cause grave harm to our border. It will affect our military by withholding their pay. It will disrupt everything from food safety inspection to [Transportation Security Administration] operations to small business loans.”
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