It's official. The 116th Congress was gaveled in on January 3, 2019. With the new Congress come many changes - especially in the House. One of the first tasks of the new Democratic House majority was to approve a package of rules that will govern how the House of Representatives will operate for the next two years. Included in that package were a handful of provisions that will have ramifications for transportation policy. I describe two of them below:
* It repealed the so-called 'Ryan rule' that required any transfer from the General Fund (GF) to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) be offset with spending cuts or revenue increases. This change is important because the HTF will need another bailout in 2020 and funds will now be allowed to be transferred from the GF to the HTF without imposing any spending cuts or tax increases. Under the Ryan rule, Congress used a variety of non transportation-related budget gimmicks to pay for the GF transfers to bail out the HTF as part of the FAST Act and MAP-21.
* It replaces CUTGO with PAYGO which means that new mandatory spending or tax cuts must be fully offset by tax increases OR spending cuts. Under CUTGO, new spending or tax cuts could only be offset with spending cuts. This is important as the FAST Act calls for a repeal of a $7.6 billion rescission of contract authority scheduled for July 1, 2020 and under CUTGO that would have meant a $7.6 billion spending cut to offset the repeal of the rescission.
The package was also notable for what it did not include. And by that I mean it did not authorize the creation of a new Ways and Means Committee Infrastructure Subcommittee. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) had proposed the creation of such a subcommittee as a way to laser focus on the funding challenges of the HTF and other infrastructure-related funding sources. Much of the infrastructure stakeholder community had supported this proposal but it ultimately did not come to fruition. These issues will remain under the jurisdiction of the Tax Policy Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee.
While earmarks were not specifically mentioned in the rules package, it remains to be seen if the House Democrats will open that door and change policy. When Republicans had control of the chamber, they made a policy decision to not allow earmarks. There are many members on both sides of the aisle that would like to see a return to earmarks as a way to direct more funding to specific priorities and not cede this prerogative to the executive branch. This is something to keep an eye on in the coming months.