Morning Action: Highway Trust Fund Rescue Effort

TRANSPORTATION.  With seven weeks until the road projects account of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) gets low enough to merit a cessation of reimbursements owed by states to contractors, lawmakers are feeling a sense of urgency to rescue the trust fund — but their solutions are questionable (sub. req’q):

Since Congress needs time to organize any trust fund rescue effort, much less set floor time and hold votes, we’ve just moved into a key decision period. And it’s clear the sense of urgency is intensifying. The risk that road construction projects could go idle this summer prompted Speaker John A. Boehner , R-Ohio, and other House GOP leaders to notify Republican members Friday , as they were about to start a weeklong recess, of a plan to patch the trust fund through next May.

That would combine an extension of highway and transit programs with an end to most Saturday mail deliveries, along with another transfer back into highway and transit accounts of excise tax receipts that would otherwise go into a fund for leaking underground storage tanks, to offset about $12 billion in projected highway and transit account shortfalls.

Tying a Highway Trust Fund fix to changes in postal operations drew scorn from the communications director for conservative group Heritage Action, Dan Holler. “The idea Congress would use a supposedly self-funding agency that cannot pay its bills as a piggy bank to fund another bankrupt, self-funding fund is absurd,” he said.

DODD-FRANK.  Modifications to D0dd-Frank may be attached to legislation to reauthorize a terrorism risk insurance program (sub. req’d):

A long-sought modification to how large insurance companies are regulated under Dodd-Frank could hitch a ride this week to legislation to reauthorize a terrorism risk insurance program, according to financial industry watchers.

Getting any change to the 2010 financial regulatory overhaul ( PL 111-203 ) has been practically impossible as Democrats seek to avoid GOP efforts to gut the law.

But there is broad bipartisan agreement that the so-called Collins Amendment needs to be tweaked, and the terrorism risk law, which is widely considered a must-pass, offers a tempting vehicle.

FARM BILL.  President Obama signed the trillion dollar food stamp and farm bill into law in February, but the appropriations process is bringing a debate surrounding the policies therein back to life (sub. req’d):

The Agriculture appropriations bill is a time-honored place for critics of farm programs to take a shot at changing policies they couldn’t alter during the debate on the farm bill.  To that end, the Heritage Foundation has released a long  list of programs it wants to see conservatives target, from catfish inspection to crop insurance. “Spending decisions are about more than just numbers; they reflect policy preferences,” Heritage says.

But one of the House’s most vocal critics of farm programs, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) 10%, doesn’t think the House is in a mood to argue about farm policy so soon after passage of the new farm bill ( PL 113-79 ). In fact, he suggests critics need to take a break and let the bill be implemented to see what impact it has before trying to press their concerns again on the House floor.

EPA.  Today the EPA unveils its new carbon rule (sub. req’d):

Months of speculation about how the Obama administration will propose to put a dent in the utility sector’s share of domestic carbon pollution are nearing an end as EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy gets set to announce today  the historic rules that are sure to be the hallmark of her career. Of course, only time — and plenty of litigation — will tell whether the first-ever limits on greenhouse gases emitted from power plants are legally sound.

A 30 percent average reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by existing power plants by 2030 will be sought by the EPA, a person familiar with the draft  rule confirmed to CQ Roll Call. The reduction will be based on 2005 emissions levels. The outline of the proposal was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday.  The White House and EPA said they would have no comment until the rule is made public.

Each state will have different standards with an average of 30 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2030, with a 25 percent reduction by 2020 .

As expected, the rule will give flexibility to the states, which must complete plans to comply with the rule by June 2016.

The Heritage Foundation says of the new rule: “The plan will drive up energy prices for American families and businesses without making a dent in global temperatures.”

MILCON-VA.  The Senate may soon take up a Milcon-VA spending bill (sub. req’d):

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) 13% has promised to spend two weeks in June on appropriations measures, and the Senate could take up the Military Construction-VA spending bill this week if the stars align. Not typically a heavy lift, the bill could become a magnet for provisions addressing some of the VA health care issues.

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