Infrastructure Package Moves through Senate Committee

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June 17, 2021

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Wednesday approved its portion of the Senate’s Highway bill by a vote of 25-3.

While the legislation approved Wednesday by the Committee is very similar to the introduced version, the manager’s amendment (substitute) included the following policy modifications that may be of interest.

  • Ag Restricted CDLs:  Sen. Moran (R-KS) led this effort. Allows for the Farm-Related Restricted CDL program to restart at the beginning of each calendar year. The change does not address request (see coalition letter) to increase the number of days that farm-related restricted CDLs can operate, though Committee staff is willing continue discussions and indicated willingness to increase the days from 180 to 210 days after the markup and presumably prior to approval by the full Senate.
  • Drive Safe Act:  Sen. Young (R-IN) led this effort. Compromise language was agreed to that creates a pilot program with similar parameters to the civilian pilot program that former Secretary Chao was working to finalize. This is not everything that we wanted (see coalition letter), but it is as much as we could get and it importantly comes with assurances that Chair Cantwell (D-WA) will support the compromise language throughout the legislative process.
  • Hauls Act (HOS):  Sen. Fischer (R-NE) led this effort. Compromise language creates an expanded hours-of-service exemption of 150 air-miles on the backend for livestock haulers only. This is helpful to livestock, but no one else. Concern for animal welfare appears to be the primary factor of this narrow compromise, despite the efforts of the broader coalition.

Outlook:  The full House intends to consider its Highway bill the week of June 28. Neither the House nor Senate has formerly identified how to pay-for their Highway bills to cover the anticipated shortfall of projected Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenues. The federal tax on gasoline of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been adjusted since 1993. It is possible that Congress could authorize spending, including deficit spending, for a new Highway bill and separately move a reconciliation package that includes other Democrat priorities, including corporate and capital gains tax increases. The Senate EPW Committee unanimously approved its $312 billion portion on May 26. The Senate Banking Committee still needs to act on its authorizing portion that includes certain transit accounts. It appears that the full Senate will not consider its Highway bill until July at the earliest.

Also Wednesday, and somewhat separately, a group of 20 Senators (10 Republicans and 10 Democrats) announced support (related article) for a framework on a broader infrastructure package. Details are scant, though reports indicate it would be $974 billion over five years, $1.2 trillion over eight years, and it includes $579 billion in new spending, which should generally mean spending above and beyond projected highway trust fund revenues via a Highway bill. A lot of hypotheticals remain, but a future House-Senate Highway bill agreement could be included in this framework.