With help from Oriana Pawlyk and Tanya Snyder
— Senate Democrats passed their $700 billion-plus party-line legislation without major changes to transportation-related items like electric vehicle tax credits.
— Zero cars currently qualify for the newly written electric vehicle tax credit but Washington has ways to break its own rules.
— The White House extends the Covid-19 public health emergency once again, ensuring that federal measures to fight the pandemic will remain in place beyond the midterm elections.
IT’S MONDAY: You’re reading Morning Transportation, your Washington policy guide to everything that moves. As always, send tips, pitches, feedback and song lyrics to [email protected]. You can find all of us on Twitter: @alextdaugherty,@TSnyderDC and @Oriana0214.
WEEKEND AT CHUCK’S: Senate Democrats passed their signature climate, tax and health care package Sunday afternoon, Marianne LeVine, Burgess Everett and Jordain Carney report, despite some last-second changes to adjust corporate minimum tax provisions. The bill includes billions in transportation-related spending, most notably the $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. The bill’s passage handed a long-sought victory to President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“After more than a year of hard work, the Senate is making history,” said Schumer shortly before final passage. “This bill will kickstart the era of affordable clean energy in America, it’s a game changer, it’s a turning point and it’s been a long time coming.”
MOVING ALONG, SLOWLY: In a 51-50 vote, Senate Democrats approved their party-line package after an amendment process that spanned more than 15 hours, though no amendments targeting any transportation-related spending were successful. The Senate’s passage of the bill caps off more than a year of up-and-down intra-party negotiations. And while the package is far smaller than the $3.5 trillion legislation that Democrats originally envisioned, it’s larger than many in the party expected just two weeks ago. The bill also includes billions to kick-start the domestic manufacturing of electric vehicles and to electrify the Postal Service fleet.
The bill now heads to the House, which will take it up Friday.
Click here to read the full text of the reconciliation bill. The Senate parliamentarian ruled Democrats could keep provisions to address climate change and adjust taxes. Most of the health care measures also came out unscathed, other than a pillar that would have penalized drug companies for raising prices on individuals with private health insurance.
BUREAUCRATIC JIU-JITSU: Democrats have crafted an electric vehicle tax credit not a single car on the market would qualify for. But Washington has always known how to break its own rules, Tanya and your MT host report. All it may take to unlock the tax credits Democrats hope will spur Americans to get rid of their gas guzzlers are some creative definitions — a bureaucratic specialty.
BUY AMERICA, IF YOU CAN: There’s already a playbook for getting around geographic sourcing requirements: A decades-long program called “Buy America,” intended to ensure road and transit projects are made from American-made materials. The requirements, especially for things like steel, which is produced more cheaply overseas, have been difficult to meet since their inception — and that’s exactly why they’re sometimes waived. For instance, though Congress enacted stringent new Buy America rules in last year’s massive infrastructure law, they were immediately waived temporarily to give states and cities more time to adapt.
MORE TIME PLEASE: The Zero Emission Transportation Association isn’t looking for waivers, but Executive Director Joe Britton said the association and its members have been on Capitol Hill asking Congress to extend the compliance deadlines in the bill by 12 to 18 months.
“We want as much time as we can get,” Britton said. “My view is that every six months we can get as an extension is materially beneficial.”
WE HAVE A BLIND SPOT: Senate Commerce Committee member Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Friday called on NHTSA to address large blind zones in front of SUVs — as big as 16 feet — that obstruct children from view and lead to “frontover” deaths. NHTSA has established rear visibility standards, at Congress’s behest, in response to “backover” deaths. These fatalities often happen in driveways and parking lots, where they are not included in annual federal statistics on traffic deaths. Front visibility cameras and sensors are available, usually in expensive cars or for an additional fee.
“Safety is not – and should never be – a premium feature only available to those who can afford it; it should be the default,” Blumenthal said.
NOT GOING AWAY: The Biden administration is expected to extend the Covid-19 public health emergency once again, ensuring that federal measures expanding access to health coverage, vaccines and treatments remain in place beyond the midterm elections, three people with knowledge of the matter told Adam Cancryn and David Lim. The planned renewal follows extensive deliberations among Biden officials over the future of the emergency declaration, including some who questioned whether it was time to let the designation lapse.
WE’RE WAITING: Democrats on the House Transportation Committee sent OMB director Shalanda Young urging the agency to complete its final rule on flight attendant duty period limitations and rest requirements, called for in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act. The law required DOT to modify its final rule on flight attendant duty to give a flight attendant at least 10 hours of rest when working a shift of 14 hours or less.
“Almost four years after bipartisan passage of the law, the final rule is still not complete,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Young. “This significant, prolonged delay is unacceptable and presents continued risk to aviation safety.”
Current rules require flight attendants to take at least nine consecutive hours of rest after a duty period of 14 hours or less, though in some cases regulations allow for an eight hour rest period.
FERRYING MONEY: FHWA announced Friday that $172.2 million in expanded formula funding for ferry service across the country, an amount that more than doubled as part of the infrastructure law. FHWA will provide the ferry boat program with $912 million over five years and the money has expanded eligibility requirements to include ferry maintenance facilities and the purchase of vehicles like buses to transport ferry passengers.
BIG WINNERS: Not surprisingly, Washington state and Alaska are the two largest recipients of federal ferry dollars, together accounting for about $78 million in funds divided between 35 states and three territories (sorry, Nebraska).
MAKING IT RAIN: The New York Times reports that in 2021 Amtrak’s top executives received their largest bonuses in years, taking in six-figure payouts despite ongoing financial issues and low ridership from the pandemic. Amtrak said the executive bonuses were based on metrics such as ridership, customer satisfaction and financial performance. Stephen Gardner, who was named Amtrak CEO in January, received the biggest bonus at $293,000 while most of Amtrak’s leadership team received payouts of more than $200,000 last year. The union representing Amtrak workers was incensed by the payouts.
“While Transport Worker Union members put themselves in harm’s way to keep this carrier alive during the pandemic, Amtrak
executives were busy feeding at the taxpayer trough, shamefully gobbling up millions in bonus pay,” TWU president John Samuelsen tweeted in response to the New York Times report.
Harout Harry Semerdjian is now government relations officer for the Port of Long Beach. He most recently was director for global trade and foreign investments for the LA Area Chamber of Commerce. (h/t Daniel Lippman)
— “RIP, Spirit — America’s most hated airline.” Washington Post.
— “Amtrak rewarded executives with six-figure bonuses as rail service struggled.” New York Times.
— “California DMV accuses Tesla of falsely advertising Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features.” Los Angeles Times.
— “The other electric vehicle: E-bikes gain ground for Americans avoiding gas cars.” Wall Street Journal.
— “At Ford, quality is now problem 1.” Wall Street Journal.
— “What the ‘golden age’ of flying was really like.” CNN.
— “In court, a fight over whether those killed on Boeing jets are ‘crime victims.’” Washington Post.