The Department of Transportation (DOT) has begun implementing my legislation establishing a tunnel inspection program, which was included in the Conference Report on H.R. 4348: the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012. H.R. 4348 became law last year.
This represents important progress towards the mandatory inspection of all highway tunnels. After the tragic July 10, 2006 death of Milena Del Valle due to a falling ceiling panel in a Big Dig tunnel, many questions were raised, including questions about inspections. There were no national standards or requirements for inspecting highway tunnels. Instead, the responsibility was with the tunnel owners, who had the authority to determine how and when their tunnels would be inspected.
My legislation created a Nationwide Tunnel Inspection Program modeled after the existing Nationwide Bridge Inspection Program. It directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish minimum inspection requirements for tunnels, including the maximum amount of time permitted between inspections and the manner in which they will be carried out. The DOT is also establishing inspector qualifications, creating a national certification program for inspectors and planning to implement a program to ensure they are properly trained. The DOT is currently drafting the requirements for tunnel owners which will include maintenance and reporting regulations.
This program will give us a much better understanding of the condition of our highway tunnels so that potential problems can be addressed in a timely fashion. I thank the DOT for its work to move the inspection process forward.
Transportation and Housing Appropriations
This week the House began consideration of H.R. 2610, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and related agencies Appropriations bill but did not vote on it. Republican leadership pulled it from the floor because they did not have enough votes for passage. Some Republicans said they would vote against the bill because its programmatic cuts are too deep, while others would oppose it because the cuts aren't deep enough. This is not in itself troubling until you realize that Republican leadership refuses to negotiate with Democrats to find a consensus. They operate under the so-called "Hastert Rule" which is a longstanding but informal Republican approach to governing that requires all bills to garner 218 votes (a majority of the House) from Republicans only before they will allow the bill on the floor for a vote. This is no way to run a democracy and is one of the main reasons the House has accomplished so little this session.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers was not pleased with this outcome. He issued a statement that reads in part: "the House has made its choice: sequestration -- and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts -- must be brought to an end....The House, Senate and White House must come together as soon as possible on a comprehensive compromise that repeals sequestration, takes the nation off this lurching path from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, reduces our deficits and debt, and provides a realistic topline discretionary spending level to fund the government in a responsible -- and attainable -- way." I agree and am encouraged to see that some members of the Majority are starting to recognize this.
H.R. 2610 cuts funding dramatically for a whole host of programs. The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) is slashed in half, putting CDBG funding at its lowest level since the program began in 1975. CDBG funds are provided to communities to assist small businesses, enhance green space, develop affordable housing and make many other improvements. Without this federal assistance, many of these initiatives simply wouldn't happen. The CDBG program was established by President Nixon, not exactly a champion of liberal activism. Yet Republicans repeatedly try to gut the program. The HOME program also suffers a significant reduction. It is cut by 30%, bringing it to the lowest level since the program began in 1992. This money is used to rehabilitate existing affordable housing and provide additional affordable units. The Choice Neighborhood Program isn't funded at all. Deteriorating housing projects have been restored through this program. This increases housing availability and improves the overall neighborhood. Finally, the bill also hurts those most in need by cutting Section 8 Disability Housing 24% and cutting the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS by 9%.
Transportation funding is also severely impacted. Amtrak will lose 37% of funding for its Capitol Program, money that is used to maintain the train fleet. Funding for the FAA to modernize air traffic control operations is slashed by $576 million. The Federal Transit Administration's "New Starts" program will lose $319 million. This money is used for new public transportation projects such as trains and buses. The TIGER program isn't funded at all and $237 million is rescinded from last year's appropriation. Not only is there no money for new projects, localities promised funds from last year might get nothing. This will leave many transportation projects with funding gaps that may result in delays or cancellation of projects. It is unclear when H.R. 2610 will be brought back up for a vote.
MF Global Legislation
This week I introduced four bills that were developed in response to last year's hearings in the Financial Services Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations regarding the collapse of MF Global. You may recall I served as Ranking Member of the subcommittee at the time. The first bill, the "Markets and Trading Reorganization Act", merges the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). This is a common sense step in continuing to advance financial regulatory reform. Merging the SEC and the CFTC will consolidate the existing regulators to eliminate gaps that have put our financial system at risk. I have long supported this merger and it became even clearer to me that such a step was needed during review of the MF Global bankruptcy. I filed similar legislation last year with former Congressman Barney Frank.
The second bill, the "Keep Repos to Maturity on Balance Sheet Act" seeks to address my concerns that regulators should change the treatment of repurchase-to-maturity transactions so that they are listed as secured borrowing instead of sales. It is my belief that the way these transactions are currently treated played a role in the collapse of MF Global.
The third bill, the "Futures Investor Protection Act", incorporates many of the recommendations that MF Global Trustee James Giddens suggested last year in his report. It would extend to futures and commodities customers protections similar to those securities customers currently enjoy, including establishing a fund in the event of a firm failure and establishing suitability requirements. The bill would also give trustees a level of authority and discretion in commodities cases comparable to what they currently only have in securities cases.
The fourth bill, the "Nothing Off Balance Sheet Act", would close other remaining accounting loopholes and require that all transactions be reported on a company's balance sheet. Rules allowing transactions to be kept off-balance sheets have masked significant risks taken in the past by Enron, Lehman Brothers, and MF Global. This bill would ensure that all financial aspects of any company are accurately reported and transparent.
It is my hope that these bills will help to both reduce the likelihood of another MF Global and establish additional protections if they become necessary.
On Wednesday the House passed a Motion to Concur in the Senate Amendment to H.R. 1911, the Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013. On July 1st, interest rates on federal student loans doubled, going from 3.4% to 6.8%. This legislation ties the student loan interest rate to the 10-year Treasury note. I could not support this bill because, while it provides relief in the short term for today's students, it will result in higher interest rates for students in the future. Under this bill, interest rates could increase each year. Rates could rise as high as 8.25% for some students, much higher than the old rate of 3.4%. In addition, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office noted that this bill would cost students and their parents an additional $715 million in interest payments over the next decade. Congress should be working to make college more affordable for students, not passing legislation that makes it more expensive. This is the same bill that passed in the Senate with both Senators Warren and Markey voicing vocal opposition. I voted NO.
More ACA Votes
This week the House voted AGAIN to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with H.R. 2009, the Keep the IRS off Your Health Care Act. The ACA requires the IRS to confirm income eligibility for the health care exchanges and to assess penalties for those who do not purchase health insurance. H.R. 2009 prohibits the IRS from doing any work related to the ACA. I voted NO.
Other Recent Votes
The House considered H.R. 1582, the Energy Consumers Relief Act. This legislation changes the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) rulemaking process. It requires the Department of Energy to review the economic impact of any energy related environmental regulation estimated to cost over $1 billion. This is nothing more than another attempt to weaken the authority of the EPA. I voted NO.
The House also passed H.R. 367, the REINS Act. This legislation amends the Congressional Review Act. It requires every regulation proposed by an executive agency that is deemed a "major rule" to be approved by Congress. The regulations would have to be approved by both the House and Senate, and then signed by the President. This places an additional burden on the development of executive agency regulations. Currently, Congress has the authority to disapprove of any proposed major regulation. I voted NO.
What's Up Next
The House has begun a district work period.
Congressman Mike Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Financial Services