Congress Heads Home with a Full Agenda

Although Congress went out with a bang they will go bust if they do not fill the holes left in the debt reduction plan passed before they left.  For example:

Health care provider groups should expect to get hit with Medicare payment cuts later this year. The health care community is still trying to figure out the Health Care Reform passed last year and will seek the support of the “joint committee” created in the debt deal to minimize any damage.

Doctors seeking to treat Medicare patients may have little financial incentive in the future with reimbursement rates to drop 30 percent on January 1, 2013 and future cuts potentially as a result of the debt agreement. In September the joint committee can expect a lot of pressure from doctors to address the reimbursement issue.

The joint committee is tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in savings with entitlement programs expected to take the largest cuts. If Congress fails to find programs and Services to cut it will trigger across-the-board cuts on a variety of key programs.

If you have any ideas for fixing the fractured system let Congress know. The House Energy and Commerce Committee and Ways and Means Committee have jurisdiction on the issue and both are chaired by members from Michigan. Hearings have already taken place on the hill with votes on legislation this fall.

Although Congress passed a temporary solution to the FAA re-authorization last week, they still need to create a long term plan. Last week Congress brokered a “bipartisan compromise” over Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, ending — if only temporarily — a two-week standoff that had sidelined 4,000 FAA employees as well as 70,000 construction workers involved in airport improvement projects and cost the government tens of millions of dollars in uncollected revenue from the airline industry. With this temporary fix strong differences remain and it is important to let Congress know how you would resolve them. If you have existing or prospective construction projects any further delay can have a significant impact on your airport.

Under the arrangement, the FAA will continue to function but slashes $16 million from the budget for subsidies paid to rural airports. That would allow the FAA to recall its furloughed employees and get up and running again at full strength – at least until Sept. 16, when the temporary extension expires.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood could grant waivers to rural airports faced with losing the subsidy. If rural airport authorities make a convincing case, then the Secretary could allow them to keep receiving money.

Since 2007, the FAA, which regulates the nation’s air traffic and safety, has been operating without a permanent, long-term authorization bill, a routinely bipartisan piece of legislation. Congress has passed 20 separate temporary authorization bills while working on a longer-term compromise.

When Congress returns to work next month, they will take up legislation overhauling the Securities and Exchange Commission. The proposed legislation improves the SECs efficiency and ethical safeguards at the agency.

In July, the Transportation Committee announced a new six-year transportation reauthorization proposal that streamlines and reforms federal programs, expedites the project approval process and maximizes use of limited resources while providing greater flexibility for states while ensure that long term funding will exist for transportation programs. More specifically and of interest to the region, the bill provides additional funding for the TIFIA loan program to meet demand for low interest loans for transportation projects.  It also encourages states to create and capitalize State Infrastructure Banks to provide loans for transportation projects at the state level, which Congressional Republicans oppose. Here are additional highlights from the Transportation Committee:


  • Distributes nearly all federal highway funding to state DOTs through formula programs designed to preserve existing highways, build new highway capacity, and address congestion, freight mobility, and highway safety.
  • Focuses the federal highway program on the Interstate Highway System and the National Highway System – the highways that facilitate interstate travel and interstate commerce.


  • Removes current barriers that prevent the private sector from offering public transportation services.
  • Provides more of a focus on transit programs that benefit suburban and rural areas and will improve transit options for the elderly and disabled.

Highway and Motor Carrier Safety

  • Prioritizes safety funding by holding highway and motor carrier safety programs harmless from any spending cuts in the bill.
  • Ensures that federal regulators keep unsafe trucks and buses off the road while allowing companies that operate in a safe and responsible manner to continue to do so.

Rail Transportation

  • Improves access to the underperforming Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) program.
  • Expedites project review process and streamlines project delivery.

Maritime Transportation

  • Ensures that Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund revenues are invested as intended in maintaining the nation’s harbors, not tied up in a federal budgetary shell game.
  • Expedites Corps of Engineers permit processing to reduce project backlog.
  • Encourages short-sea shipping by eliminating double taxation on vessels transporting freight between domestic ports.

Hazardous Materials Transportation

  • Achieves greater safety through regulatory certainty and uniformity.
  • Reduces regulatory burdens that do not enhance safety.