Construction Legislative Week in Review October 22, 2015
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On the Inside
House T&I Committee Approves 6 Year Transportation Bill
President Obama Vetoes Defense Bill
Candidates & Dates Confirmed for Republican Leadership Race
Vice President Biden Rules out Third Presidential Run
House T&I Committee Approves 6 Year Transportation Bill

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee completed bipartisan action today on H.R. 3763, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act (STRRA) of 2015, and, with unanimous consent of the committee, cleared the way for the legislation to be considered by the full House. The committee held a marathon markup taking up over 160 amendments. An omnibus “manager’s amendment,” which included numerous amendments that received bipartisan support, was approved by the committee. Most of the other amendments were introduced, discussed and then withdrawn. A handful of amendments were voted on but few were approved. Amendments covered a variety of policy issues in the legislation from trucking rules to program administration.

The AGC co-chaired Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) sent a letter to the committee, prior to the markup, urging adoption of the six year measure but pointing out that the authorized amounts, which maintain current funding levels, do not keep pace with increasing material costs or general inflation. AGC separately wrote a letter suggesting that the House work to provide funding at least at the Senate’s DRIVE Act levels. While there was some discussion during the markup about the need for increased revenue for the program, funding levels were not addressed. Revenue issues are not within the jurisdiction of the T&I Committee and must be address in the Ways and Means Committee.

Both letters opposed a provision in a newly created grant program for freight improvement projects that allows up to $500 million in the program to be used for rail freight projects. The letters pointed out that with limited resources available to meet existing highway needs, increasing the types of projects that are eligible for Highway Trust Fund dollars should not be approved. While an amendment was offered during the committee markup to increase that level to $1.4 billion was not adopted, the freight rail eligibility remained in place.

An AGC provision was included in the manager’s amendment expressing the “sense of the Congress” that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) complete action on regulations implementing a provision included in MAP-21 that would enhance worker protections by increasing use of positive barrier in highway work zones.  A second AGC initiated amendment to expand the mileage limit allowing construction drivers to reset their hours of service after a 24 hour break was withdrawn without a vote.

H.R. 3763 could be considered by the House as early as next week.

For more information, contact Sean O’Neill Return to Top

President Obama Vetoes Defense Bill
Bill included AGC-Backed Procurement Reforms

The president today vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (NDAA bill), a bill that helps fund the Department of Defense (DOD) and helps pay for the needs of our nation’s soldiers. This is only President Obama’s fifth veto of his seven-year tenure in office, and first time he has vetoed an NDAA bill, despite threatening to do so every year. As previously reported, the now vetoed NDAA bill included several AGC-backed federal procurement reform provisions that would help prevent individual surety fraud, allow joint ventures to submit individual businesses’ relevant past performance evaluations as part of their proposals—not merely the relevant past performance of the joint venture itself—and fix a recent court decision that would have required small business construction contractors to purchase all their materials and supplies from other small businesses.

The president vetoed the bill, basically, because it increases defense spending through a budget maneuver without also increasing domestic spending. Specifically, the president vetoed the NDAA bill because it increases spending in the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account—which funds overseas military operations—to help fund DOD as a means to avoid: (1) exceeding the spending caps enacted in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA); and (2) mandatory budget cuts—called sequestration—as OCO funds are not subject to the spending caps established in the BCA and are, therefore, not subject to sequestration cuts. This action represents a major stand against the rigid defense and non-defense spending caps set in the BCA and the sequestration mechanism—to which the president and many in Congress have called for an end. However, neither the president nor members of either party in Congress have put forth a credible, reasonable, and passable legislative solution to completely end the BCA spending caps and sequestration in four years.

With the veto, the NDAA bill moves back to Congress for an override vote. To override the president’s veto, at least two-thirds of lawmakers in each the House (290 Representatives) and the Senate (67 Senators) would have to vote against the president to enact the bill into law. Although the bill passed Congress with large bipartisan majorities—270-156 in the House and 70-27 in the Senate—the House would need an additional 20 votes to override the veto.  

If an override vote fails, the AGC-backed provisions may remain in any compromise NDAA bill passed by Congress and signed by the president, as those provisions are not at the core of the reasons for the president’s veto. However, the situation remains fluid and AGC will continue to work with members of the House and Senate to help ensure that these construction procurement improvements become law.

For more information, please contact Jimmy Christianson at 703-837-5325 or Return to Top

Candidates & Dates Confirmed for Republican Leadership Race

After returning from the congressional recess this week, the Republican members in the House of Representatives continued to gather their thoughts and rally behind a potential “unity candidate” for Speaker of the House following Rep. John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) announced resignation. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) met with various Republican caucuses to discuss conditions under which he would be willing to serve as Speaker. These conditions include:

  1. Endorsements from all Republican caucuses
  2. Alter House rules to make it harder to oust a Speaker via “motions to vacate the chair”
  3. Lighter travel schedule to spend more time with family, with caveat to fundraise via various media
  4. Support from all groups and for his colleagues to accept the conditions by Friday, October 23rd

On Wednesday, Ryan received a “super majority” of member support but did not meet a threshold for an all-out endorsement, despite meeting with the Freedom Caucus who has already voiced support for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.). By the same evening, Rep. Ryan said he would proceed with a formal campaign for Speaker. The internal Republican election for speaker will be conducted on October 28, and the floor election will be held October 29. Meanwhile, the vacancy created by Rep. Ryan on the Ways and Means Committee will be filled following his election to the Speakership. Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) have been privately gearing up for a race to claim the Ways and Means gavel.  Return to Top

Vice President Biden Rules out Third Presidential Run

Despite media reports predicting that Vice President Joe Biden would enter the presidential race early in the week, yesterday he officially announced that he will not, saying his “window of opportunity had closed.”
As we had stated here earlier, Mr. Biden had three obstacles to overcome, none of which appeared easy to traverse. First, to which he referred in his Rose Garden announcement, the time was fast elapsing when he could reasonably develop a campaign from the ground up, in terms of building both a fundraising and grassroots political organization. 
Because of his longstanding career in national politics, Biden would not have been starting a national campaign at political ground zero, but would have been uncomfortably close. The vice president already realized that he was likely past the point of no return to compete in Iowa and New Hampshire, thus leaving South Carolina as the state where he could make his first stand against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT). This would have made generating any serious momentum very difficult when already two highly publicized voting events would be completed before a Biden campaign even realistically began. 
Second, constructing an organization that could raise millions of dollars quickly in $2,700 maximum increments during such a short time frame would also have been an arduous task regardless of his current political position. Yes, Super PACs would have quickly formed to support him that could have bundled large sums in short order, but he would still need a sizable amount of funding to directly control (candidates and their staffs can have no say in how Super PAC money is spent).
Third, his polling standing wasn’t particularly strong, especially for a sitting vice president. In most national polls Mr. Biden was third, usually around the 20% mark. It would be reasonable to assume that his numbers would improve when he actually became a candidate, but beginning so far behind front-runner Clinton would make winning delegate votes in primaries and caucuses a very tall political order. Convincing party leaders and elected officials, who would become Democratic Super Delegates, was an additional problem. Most of this group is concerned only with finding a candidate who can win the general election, suggesting that most would not immediately abandon early commitments to Ms. Clinton.
With Mr. Biden jettisoning the presidential race, October 21 may now be looked upon as the day Ms. Clinton unofficially won the Democratic nomination. With Jim Webb withdrawing from the democratic primary, and remaining minor candidates Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee being non-factors, a head-to-head battle with Bernie Sanders should easily go Clinton’s way.
  Return to Top

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