WASHINGTON • The long-term transportation bill that is projected to pass Congress later this week includes several provisions by St. Louis-area members, a few of which have little to do with highways.
Among them is re-authorization of the Export-Import bank, whose charter expired earlier this year, and whose future has been the subject of intense lobbying and ideological debate. Its reauthorization was pushed by Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and supported by the St. Louis-area delegation.
Supporters said the bank helps area exporters, like Boeing, finance trade deals against competition that has the backing of foreign governments. Opponents, including much of the House Republican leadership, called it unnecessary corporate welfare for big companies like Boeing.
The overall bill also repeals a controversial measure of a five-week-old budget agreement that would cut federal spending on crop insurance. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, was among those voting against that budget agreement while citing the crop-insurance cuts. He said the new highway bill unveiled Tuesday "reverses short-sighted cuts to crop insurance programs and reauthorizes the Export-Import bank," which "are both important provisions... in the agricultural and manufacturing industries."
Terms of the 1,300-page agreement were being released Tuesday, but reportedly include about $281 billion over five years for transportation construction and repair projects. A short-term highway bill expires Friday. Some opposition to the way the bill will be paid for - the federal 18.4-cent per gallon tax will not be raised - has already emerged. Among the proposals reported to be in the package include tapping excess Federal Reserve funds and diverting revenue from customs fees on airlines and cruise passengers into transportation.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the way the bill will be financed is "not necessarily ideal" but that it showed that Congress can get things done.
If passed, the measure will have several provisions pushed by St. Louis-area members, including:
• A measure by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., aimed at improving power-grid reliability and protect utilities from conflicting environmental regulations.
• A rental-car safety provision co-sponsored by McCaskill that would prevent cars under recall from being rented to customers until they are repaired.
• Blunt language designed to set aside more funding for county-owned bridges, which his office says constitute about 52 percent of Missouri's bridges. Blunt says about 30 percent of these non-federal bridges in Missouri are structurally deficient or obsolete.
• A provision pushed by McCaskill and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, that would streamline federal permitting for construction projects. The two senators have been pushing a bipartisan bill aimed at doing this for about two years.
• A financial services bill aimed at streamlining federal securities filing requirements for companies with less than $75 million publicly traded stocks. It was sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, who says it will allow smaller companies to save money while expanding by allowing them to more quickly access capital. It unanimously passed the House earlier this year but had not yet been considered by the Senate, and is part of a securities-related section in the proposed highway bill.
• Amendments co-sponsored by Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, that would allow independent welders who drive to work sites be exempt from federal weight requirements if their vehicles weigh less than 15,000 pounds, and that would clarify the type of freight that auto haulers can carry on return trips after they drop off their cars at dealerships.
• A grant program for states, pushed by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to create a national policy to improve the performance of freight hauling. Illinois has the second-largest rail network with almost 10,000 miles of track, and 7,737 public crossings, his office said.
• A Blunt-sponsored provision directing the Department of Transportation to study delays caused by differing state permitting requirements for special vehicles necessary for emergency infrastructure response.