On Two Transportation Fronts, a Republican Pushback on Executive Power
Posted at 9:26 a.m. on July 30, 2014
A familiar Republican argument — that President Barack Obama’s appointees are using executive branch power to hurt states and businesses — was heard almost simultaneously late Tuesday afternoon on the Senate floor and across the street from the Capitol at a hearing in the Russell Senate Office building from two GOP senators on two different topics, both involving transportation.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania said after a disaster such as Superstorm Sandy in 2012, states face a lengthy federal regulatory review before they can rebuild or replace infrastructure destroyed by that disaster.
Toomey’s amendment would have waived the environmental review in post-disaster infrastructure rebuilding.
The amendment fell short of the 60 votes it needed – but Toomey did get four Democrats to vote with him, including Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, who is up for re-election this November.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D- Md., told Toomey that the 2012 MAP-21 surface transportation authorization already allows expedited post-disaster rebuilding.
Toomey fired back that “the so-called fix in MAP-21” is incomplete because it’s at the discretion of Department of Transportation bureaucrats who “can simply choose not to have an expedited process if they deem the project to be ‘controversial.’ Who knows what that means?”
And Toomey said time-consuming project reviews are still needed from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.
At about that same moment, at a hearing of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., was sparring with the soon-to-depart head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Anne Ferro, on a FMCSA rule from last year requiring truck drivers to get two nights off before the “restart” of their workweek.
Ferro testified that most truck drivers’ compensation is tied to the number of miles they drive, and excessive waiting times for loading and unloading their trucks means that drivers have “an economic incentive to drive beyond the legal limits, drive beyond their physical limits, and in some cases drive tired when they are least safe.”
Ayotte accused Ferro of acting precipitately in issuing the ruling. She championed a bill by Sen. Susan Collins, R – Maine, to delay the rule and order an analysis of its effects.
“We haven’t answered a fundamental question … if we change the restart rules in the way that they’ve been proposed, how many more trucks will be on the road during those daytime hours, [and] what will be the safety impact of having more of them on the road during the daytime hours?” Ayotte said. “To delay the rule while we understand that question seems to me logical ….”
When Ferro reminded Ayotte that the rule was already in effect, the New Hampshire Republican replied, “I don’t know why we [meaning Ferro] went forward with a rule without having those questions answered.”
But even if there’s an overwhelming vote in the House to rescind a regulation, a Democratic Senate and Obama himself ensure that it will likely remain in place, almost certainly until Jan. 20, 2017, even if Republicans gain control of the Senate in the November elections.