On January 3, 2019, at the outset of the 116th
Congress, the House of Representatives elected Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
as Speaker of the House with 220 votes, surpassing the votes necessary for
victory by a few votes. In addition, the House elected Representative Steny
Hoyer (D-MD) as Majority Leader and Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as Minority
Leader. In the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remains Majority Leader and
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) continues as Minority Leader. Senator John Thune
(R-SD) was elected as Majority Whip.
Adopts New Rules for the 116th Congress
At the outset of the Congress, the House of Representatives also
adopted Title I of H. Res. 6, which provides the Rules of the House for the 116th
Congress. There are several notable changes to House Rules from the previous
First, the House established a new committee, the Select Committee on
the Climate Crisis, to investigate, study, and help respond to the negative
impacts of environmental pollution. The Select Committee will include 15 Representatives.
The Select Committee will have the authority to hold public hearings and is required
to provide detailed findings and policy recommendations to the full House by
December 31, 2020. The Committee does not have legislative authority.
Second, House Rules did not include special authority to create a
Subcommittee on Infrastructure Financing of the Committee on Ways and Means, an
idea championed by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). The Committee on Ways
and Means has jurisdiction over revenues of the Highway Trust Fund (including the
Mass Transit Account) and these issues will remain within the jurisdiction of
the Subcommittee on Tax Policy.
Finally, House Rules include several important changes to budget rules,
which may affect the ability to increase funding for surface transportation
programs. The Rules eliminate a requirement that budget transfers from the General
Fund to the Highway Trust Fund be offset by other budget cuts. This change
eliminates one impediment to increasing funding for the Highway Trust Fund.
However, the Rules also restore the House Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) rule, which requires
that new mandatory spending be offset with tax increases or mandatory spending
cuts. Therefore, under the PAYGO rule, a bill that increases public
transportation contract authority (e.g, infrastructure investment legislation)
will need to be offset by other spending cuts or revenue increases. Lastly, the
Rules include a provision that makes it easier to increase the nation’s Debt
Limit without a specific vote on the issue in the House of Representatives. If
the House adopts a Budget Resolution, a bill suspending the Debt Limit is
automatically sent to the Senate for legislative action. In total, these
changes to budget rules are a “mixed bag” for increasing public transportation
investment. It remains likely that any significant increase in infrastructure
investment will need to be offset by budget cuts or increases in revenues.
Rail Successfully Meets 2018 PTC Congressional Milestones
As of December 31, 2018, all commuter rail systems have successfully
met the 2018 Positive Train Control (PTC) statutory milestones, including:
- Installing all
PTC hardware (wayside and onboard equipment);
- Acquiring all
necessary spectrum for PTC implementation;
- Completing all
testing on at least one territory subject to the PTC requirement (or other
- Submitting a
revised plan and alternative schedule to the Secretary of Transportation for
implementing a PTC system.
APTA President and CEO Paul
Skoutelas issued a press release regarding
commuter railroads’ success at achieving these important milestones.
In the next two years,
one of the biggest challenges is interoperability. Commuter rail systems
will need to ensure that their PTC implementation is seamlessly operational for
both host and tenant operators. Interoperability will require thorough
communication and coordination between the various host and tenant railroads.
PTC implementation technological challenges
have included: a limited number of PTC-qualified vendors simultaneously in
demand by both the passenger and freight railroad industries to develop,
design, and test this complex safety technology; diagnosing and resolving
software issues, securing adequate access to track and locomotives for
installation and testing, and achieving interoperability, as commuter rail
systems operate in mixed traffic with other freight and passenger railroads.
To assist in the effort to implement PTC, on December 21, 2018, the
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) awarded more than $46 million for PTC
deployment projects, including more than $36 million for commuter rail PTC
projects. To view the FRA press release, please click here.
To date, four railroads have reported fully implementing an
FRA-certified and interoperable PTC system.
Passes Appropriations Bills to End Federal Government Shutdown;President
Trump Threatens Veto
Last night, the House of Representatives passed two bills to end the
Federal Government shutdown. Today marks the 14th day of the partial
The House passed H.R. 21, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019”, by
a vote of 241 – 190. H.R. 21 provides full-year funding for the U.S. Department
of Transportation (DOT) and other departments and agencies, except the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Separately, the House also passed H.J.
Res. 1, which provides a Continuing Resolution for DHS programs through
February 8, 2019.
The Consolidated Appropriations bill represents bills passed by the
Senate (or reported by its committees). Thus, the Transportation, Housing and
Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Division of H.R.
21 reflects the THUD bill as passed by the Senate. The bill provides $16.1 billion for public
transportation and intercity passenger rail, including $13.6 billion for public
transportation and $2.5
billion for intercity passenger rail grants. These total funding levels are
slightly less than the historic fiscal year (FY) 2018 funding levels but $1.3
billion more than authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act
for FY 2019. For a full funding table, please click here. Please note
that the THUD funding included in H.R. 21 is the “Senate THUD Appropriations”
(5th column of table). For the statement
of APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas about the funding bill, please click
However, President Trump has indicated that he would veto
these bills if they do not provide significantly increased southern border wall
funding. To view the Trump Administration’s Statement of Administration Policy,
here. Given the Administration’s
opposition to the bill, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has indicated that he
will not allow a vote on the bill. Currently, there is no immediate plan to resolve
the ongoing standoff and reopen the Federal Government.