September 20, 2018 12:15 PM, EDT

Transportation Bill Could Be Next Up After Senate Sends House Defense Bill

Livestock haulerraymondclarkeimages/Flickr

The U.S. Senate has gained more time to finalize a transportation measure that includes a key trucking provision prior to a Sept. 30 deadline now that it has approved a fiscal 2019 defense funding bill.

The Senate on Sept. 18 advanced a legislative package that would provide funding for the Department of Defense, and a short-term continuing funding resolution valid through Dec. 7 designed to avoid a partial government shutdown. The House is expected to clear the measure for President Donald Trump’s signature when lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 25.

And with the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1, transportation leaders continue to express optimism about finalizing a four-bill legislative package, before then, that includes the transportation measure.

Tucked in the versions of the transportation bill each chamber has crafted is a provision that would deny funding for the electronic logging device mandate for certain livestock haulers. The House has not considered the transportation proposal. The Senate approved its version in August.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the chamber’s top appropriator, emphasized on Sept. 18 his colleagues are close to agreeing on the four-bill funding package.

Richard Shelby

Sen. Richard Shelby. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

“While we still have differences to resolve on each of the bills, none of them are insurmountable, in my judgment,” Shelby said. “So we will continue to work diligently, and hopefully return to the floor soon with yet another conference report in hand.”

Appropriations Committee ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, echoed Shelby’s sentiment.

“We are very close to an agreement. We should not delay this package over unrelated policy matters that have no place on must-pass spending bills,” said Leahy, referring to the transportation measure as the “nation’s infrastructure bill.”

“The funds provided not only help us rebuild our crumbling bridges and roads and invest in our communities, but they create jobs for thousands of workers across this country,” Leahy added.

While the ELD exemption has garnered support from Republican leaders, a small number of senior House Democrats argue the provision does not belong in an appropriation bill.

The ELD congressional mandate, which requires carriers to equip trucks with the devices to track drivers’ hours of service, became effective in December 2017. A short-term funding law in the spring of this year directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration not to enforce the ELD rule for agriculture-related transportation through Sept. 30.

At a meeting on Sept. 13 between House and Senate appropriation leaders, transportation funding leader Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), repeated his support for the ELD provision. His Senate counterpart, Maine Republican Susan Collins, said she was confident her colleagues would finalize the four-bill package prior to Sept. 30 and avoid a short-term funding fix for transportation programs.

“I am convinced that we can get all of these bills across the finish line. And we must,” Collins said. “We can’t come this far and not achieve the goal.”