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Senate bill with transportation funding abruptly pulled from floor

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, amidst a heated debate of Senate procedures, pulled a major funding bill from the Senate floor Thursday, including money that would have funded the Department of Transportation in FY’15. (The Trucker file photo)

The Trucker Staff


WASHINGTON — The FY '15 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies appropriations (THUD) bill fell victim to politics Thursday when the Senate's top Democrat yanked a hybrid $180 billion spending measure from the Senate floor Thursday after Republicans protested a plan that would have denied them the chance to more easily win changes to the measure.

The hybrid bill would have funded the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development for the 2015 budget year beginning Oct. 1.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pulled the bill after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., thwarted a move to require a supermajority 60-vote threshold for adoption of amendments to the measure.

One of the amendments in question Thursday was an effort by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to negate most of what an amendment by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that was tacked onto the bill when it was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.

The amendment would have suspended the current Hours of Service 34-hour restart provision for a year while a field study is undertaken.

Booker’s amendment would have upheld the entire HOS rule as it now exists, in effect canceling the Collins amendment.

When or if it will be called back to the floor for more debate remains uncertain.

The American Trucking Associations, which put out a plea to members to contact lawmakers when it appeared the vote on the full bill would be taken June 19, immediately expressed dismay over the bill being pulled from the floor.

“ATA is disappointed that the FY 2015 Transportation Appropriations bill was pulled from the floor after Senate leaders failed to agree on a framework for considering amendments to the bill,” Sean McNally, vice president of communications and press secretary at ATA, said.  “While the debate on Senator Booker’s amendment was cut short, there is no question that the comments made by Sen. Collins, Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., make clear as to why the Collins’ Hours of Service restart study language should remain in the underlying bill.  It is sound policy, it is overwhelmingly bipartisan and it when it’s ultimately enacted into law, it will help keep our nation’s highways safe.”

A spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee expressed optimism that the bill would be brought back to the floor.

“Today was disappointing but we aren’t done by a long shot,” the spokesperson said. “We’ve already marked up six bills with bipartisan majority votes and hope to do more next week.  It’s a shame that we couldn’t get an agreement today from the other side to move forward but it’s only a little bump in the road and we intend to roll up our sleeves and come back at this again next week.”

Reid was also a force in canceling committee consideration Thursday of a separate energy and water projects spending bill after McConnell appeared poised to win a vote aimed at blocking any new government rules on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Democrats feared that McConnell was also in a position to force a vote on the controversial carbon emissions issue on the floor measure, which appeared to be a major factor in Reid's insistence on a filibuster-proof margin for amendments to that measure.

"Not only do we not get votes on the floor, we don't get votes in committee either," McConnell said in a bitter floor exchange. "When do we start legislating again? What's happened to the United States Senate?"

The combined events are a big setback for efforts to get Congress' troubled appropriations process back on track. The chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has put considerable energy into trying to revive the appropriations process and won promises of floor debate from Reid. An aide said she's still holding out hope that there's a path forward for the huge spending bill, a hybrid measure that combines the budgets for the departments of Justice, Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.

Thursday's battle was the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle between Reid and McConnell over how the chamber is run. Reid has clamped down on the traditional right of freewheeling debate and amendment. He says it is McConnell who has forced a 60-vote barrier for virtually everything. The relationship between the two was further poisoned after Reid engineered a change in filibuster rules for confirming judges and other administration nominees.

Reid read a series of quotes in which McConnell had said that any important or controversial legislation requires 60 votes in the 100-member Senate.

"I want to have votes on the conditions that Sen. McConnell has so frequently stated," Reid said. "The idea of a 60-vote threshold will not come as a surprise to anyone in this chamber."

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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