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11/24/2004
SPECIAL REPORT: Giant spending bill avoids last minute snafu; lawmakers head home for turkey

Congress met today to pass an extended continuing resolution to fund the government until Dec. 8. A snafu delayed lawmakers' holiday recess when highly controversial language about access to individual tax records was found in the $388 billion omnibus spending measure.

In the 3,500- page bill, there was a provision that threw up red flags and that some said trampled on disclosure laws because it would allow the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees or their agents "access to Internal Revenue Service facilities and any tax returns or return information contained therein."

According to OOIDA's Government Affairs Representative Rod Nofziger, an agreement was reached yesterday, Nov. 23, on how to remove the offending language. Nofziger said the House minority leader agreed to an extension of a continuing resolution to fund the government until Dec. 8. Lawmakers will reconvene Dec. 6 to work on removing the language from the omnibus spending bill. Issues should be resolved then.

Staff members of Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND, found the provision while plowing through the 3,500-page bill Saturday after the House passed it on to the Senate.

ALSO IN THIS BILL:

  • HOS exemptions;
  • The Olver Amendment; and
  • Heavier trucks in New Hampshire.

HOS exemptions for TV, movie and utility truckers
A few specialized truckers could get a break from hours-of-service rules - for a year anyway - if provisions in the omnibus bill survive when lawmakers reconvene and consider the measure during the first week of December.

The exemptions would be for truckers working in the television and motion picture industries and some utility truck drivers, Nofziger said. However, he said the exemptions would be in effect only for federal fiscal year 2005.

"It's basically kind of a back-door exemption," Nofziger said Wednesday, Nov. 24. "They are worded such that the DOT can't use any funds from the appropriations bill to enforce HOS rules on those drivers."

The catch is that the language ties the back-door exemption to the funding cycle of the bill - fiscal year 2005.

Olver Amendment still alive; would close foreign truck loophole
Despite being dubbed veto bait by the Bush administration, the Olver Amendment remains alive as part of the 3,500-page omnibus appropriation bill to be considered next month by Congress.

The amendment, offered by Rep. John Olver, D-MA, would close a loophole that would allow Mexican and Canadian trucks to operate for two years in the United States without meeting the safety and certification standards imposed on domestic trucks. It was overwhelming approved by a 339-70 vote in the House earlier this fall as part of that chamber's transportation-treasury spending bill.

President Bush and his staff have been very open in their opposition to the amendment. Recently there were threats that if it were included in the omnibus appropriations bill Bush would veto the entire spending package.

Nofziger said Wednesday afternoon that the veto chatter about the amendment on Capitol Hill has lessened even though the president remains opposed to closing the foreign truck loophole.

The Olver Amendment would help to uniformly enforce U.S. safety laws by preventing the DOT from granting a two-year waiver to foreign trucks that do not have safety certifications and labels. In essence, the amendment would require all commercial trucks operating in the United States to play by the same rules.

New Hampshire truck weights
Also included in the 3,500-page appropriations bill is an amendment to permit heavier loads along three New Hampshire highways.

As written, truck weight limitations would be bumped up to 99,000 pounds for large trucks traveling the length of Interstates 89, 93 and 95 in the state.

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