Meet the D.C. power crowd, part 3: Appropriations and Finance

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 3/6/2015

Most bills spend time in at least one committee before they ever get to the floor of the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate for a vote.

Appropriations bills are a prime example. These are annual spending bills and are separate from the “highway bill” process; however, they also provide an avenue for some related proposals to receive a breath of life – or die on the vine. Congress has previously debated cross-border trucking, electronic logs and the 34-hour restart issue in appropriations bills.

This installment of the “D.C. power crowd” takes a look at the committees that hold the wallet and control the purse strings on transportation and safety funding through the appropriations process.

The Senate and House appropriations committees, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, as well as their subcommittees, are tasked with coming up with the specifics on funding.

Chairing the Senate Appropriations Committee in the 114th Congress is Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. Cochran is socially and fiscally conservative. He issued a press release in February saying he and the committee will scrutinize all spending proposals that arrive there.

The ranking Democrat on Senate Appropriations is Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

Within the Senate Appropriations Committee is the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who went to bat for truckers on the 34-hour-restart issue, is the chair of that subcommittee. The ranking Democrat is Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon is the ranking Democrat.

Hatch has been a supporter of the Highway Trust Fund and recently said that he would be open to exploring a number of funding options. Early talk of a fuel-tax increase has died down in recent weeks. Wyden, the former committee chairman, proposed but quickly dropped a proposal last year that would have doubled the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax from $550 to $1,100.

On the House side, the Appropriations Committee is chaired by Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., with Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., as the ranking member.

House Approps has its own Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.
That is chaired by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and the ranking Democrat is Rep. David Price of North Carolina.

An important committee to the process but not one that gets a lot of mainstream attention is the House Ways and Means Committee. As far as where funding will come from for a future highway bill, this is where much of the discussion will take place outside of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., became chairman of Ways and Means following the retirement of Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich. A social and fiscal conservative, Ryan supports tax reforms as a way to balance the budget. Transportation will factor into an overall reform plan. The ranking Democrat on House Ways and Means is Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan.

OOIDA’s Washington, D.C., office works to educate lawmakers and empower OOIDA members to do the same using and other resources. It’s important for truckers to be engaged in the process, OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley says.

“The action on trucking policy this year is likely to be focused on both the usual authorizing committees like House Transportation and Infrastructure, Senate Commerce and Senate EPW as well as the appropriations committees in both the House and Senate,” Bowley said.

See related stories:
Meet the D.C. power crowd, part 1: House T&I Committee
Meet the D.C. power crowd, part 2: Senate Environment, Commerce committees

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