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Agencies that oversee freight and passenger transportation policies will gain a clearer outlook for the next fiscal year when Congress this summer considers its annual funding legislation for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
House Democratic leaders indicated appropriations bills for fiscal 2021, which include the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies funding measure, would be considered as early as next month.
As part of President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget request, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates trucking policy, would receive nearly a 4% increase from the previous year.
Besides the funding bills, House Democratic leaders signaled the possibility of scheduling floor debates this summer on a highway policy reauthorization bill that would update a 2015 highway law that expires Sept. 30. Transportation leaders recently unveiled a five-year, $494 billion measure that would provide $319 billion for the federal-aid highway program at the Federal Highway Administration.
Additionally, House leaders said they also intend to call up water infrastructure legislation, health care protection bills, certain pandemic-related measures, and an expansive military affairs policy measure.
“I am hopeful, though, that we can complete work on critical legislative items in a timely fashion while continuing to do our part to respond to the pandemic’s health and economic impacts,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said recently. “The Democratic-led House will continue to be focused on doing its job ‘For the People,’ even while confronting this pandemic.”
An inability to approve the appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 would necessitate a short-term funding legislation to avert a temporary shutdown of federal agencies.
On the other side of the Capitol, the Republican Senate leaders indicated consideration of their version of fiscal 2021 appropriations measures would take place either this month or in early July. Republican leaders also indicated the Senate’s summer schedule would include the consideration of Trump’s nominees, the annual military affairs policy bill, and possibly water infrastructure measures. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have yet to schedule the consideration of a House-passed $3 trillion emergency package designed to increase aid for agencies around the country responding to the pandemic.
Congress’ summer agenda also will include the consideration of comprehensive law enforcement reform legislation. House and Senate leaders acknowledged worldwide protests soon after the killing of 46-year-old Minneapolis resident George Floyd motivated the bill’s consideration.
“This moment of national anguish is being transformed into a movement of national action, as Americans from across the country peacefully protest to demand an end to injustice,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said June 8. “With the Justice in Policing Act, the Congress is standing with those fighting for justice and taking action.”
“I’m proud that Americans across our country can protest in safety and peace. I’m proud that their neighbors continue to answer the call to protect and serve. And I’m hopeful that with unity and mutual respect, we can continue this important national discussion to ensure justice and equal protection under the law,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said June 8.
Overall, the fiscal 2021 budget request for DOT proposes $21.6 billion in discretionary spending, a 13% decrease from the previous year’s enacted level. Mandatory contract authority and obligation limitations would receive $66.2 billion, an 8% increase from the previous-year enacted level.
The White House request also calls for $1 billion for both infrastructure and freight grants. “These programs provide federal assistance for critical projects that will spur progress in both rural and urban communities across all modes of surface transportation infrastructure: highways, transit, rail and ports,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Capitol Hill in March.
Key Democrats on the Appropriations committees criticized proposed funding levels for transit and Amtrak. Top Republican appropriators applauded the White House’s budget request.
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