GOP spending bill reignites trucking debate

GOP spending bill reignites trucking debate
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A $55 billion Republican funding bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development is reigniting a debate in Congress about truck safety. 

Safety groups have accused GOP lawmakers of using the appropriations process to undo a series of trucking regulations they say makes U.S. roads safer, including limits on the length and weight of trucks that have been opposed by trucking companies for years. 

“The House Appropriations Committee released the FY 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill including safety rollbacks and repeals for special trucking interests,” a group known as the Truck Safety Coalition said in a statement.  

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“Despite significant public opposition, Congress continues to push the industry’s agenda without any public input, hearings or debate,” the group continued. “Truck crash deaths and injuries are up dramatically at the same time Congress is considering major anti-truck safety changes. These safety assaults being pushed in Congress by special trucking interests will increase the safety risks of others including truck drivers, the motoring public, bicyclists and pedestrians.” 

The groups are planning to hold a press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday ahead of a scheduling hearing on the Transportation and Housing appropriations bill, which is known in Washington as THUD. 

The GOP measure provides $55.3 billion in funding the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, but the measure also includes a number of provisions dealing with policy issues like trucking regulations. 

The measure increases the limit on truck lengths to 84 feet and takes aim at a controversial set of scheduling rules that were implemented by the Obama administration to reduce fatigue among truck drivers. 

Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxDC mayor touts progress in reducing traffic deaths Toll roads poised to boom under Trump plan Transportation chief urges Trump to press forward on self-driving cars MORE sharply criticized Republicans for including the policy riders in the appropriations bill for his agency on Tuesday. 

"There's some very important safety protections that are being challenged through the appropriations process, without the benefit of hearings, without the benefit of ... testing those riders in the warm glow of public discourse," he said during a briefing with reporters.

Foxx said the issues that are not related directly to the Transportation and Housing agencies’ funding should be handled in other pieces of legislation, such as an extension of a separate transportation bill that is coming up for renewal in May.

"Everyone knows we need to have a reauthorization of the surface system," he said. 

“Reauthorization gives you a chance to have the debates, have the discussion, argue both sides and come up a solution that makes sense.” 

Foxx said Republicans are conducting an end run around the normal legislative process by including the trucking provisions in his agency’s funding bill. 

"What's happening is the appropriations process is now being used to create policy, which, when it comes to safety, that's a real problem because it leaves us without a process with which we can articulate the concerns we have," he said. “You can expect us to be very vocal about these issues, and my hope is that folks won't only reconsider the merits of some of the issues, but also some of the processes that some of these issues are dealt with, because there's a much better process available.” 

The trucking industry offered a starkly different perspective, saying the provisions that are included in the THUD bill have been on Congress’s agenda for a long time.

“These issues have been debated for years,” American Trucking Association spokesman Sean McNally told The Hill on Wednesday morning, noting that lawmakers will be holding a hearing on the appropriations bill in the afternoon.  

“They’re the same issues we’ve been talking about for years, and now we’re going to talk about them again,” he said. 

McNally added the appropriations bill is fair game for the trucking provisions because it is a piece of legislation that is moving through Congress. 

“We obviously take a different view of the safety ramifications of these provisions,” he said, describing the changes as a “number of things we believe will increase output and safety.” 

“We’re looking for a way for to advance a pro-safety and pro-trucking agenda and absent other vehicles, this may be one,” McNally said. “There is going to be a hearing today with witnesses in committee who are recognized as experts in safety and trucking, so I’m sure it will be a balanced perspective.”