There was a pile-up of legislative priorities in December, and Congress ended up getting a tax bill through but punted action on spending levels, the DACA immigration policy, and stabilizing the health insurance market to 2018. This means that January is now full of deadlines.
First, the tax legislation that Congress passed in December has a number of ramifications for transportation. Most importantly, it adds at least a trillion dollars to the federal deficit—which means there will be a lot less money available for government programs or new initiatives such as an infrastructure package. The final package suspends the bike commuter benefit for ten years, and removes the employer’s tax incentive for paying for commuter benefits (but employees can still deduct commuting costs tax-free). The tax credit for electric vehicles was also eliminated, but the final bill did not get rid of the tax incentives for bonds that many jurisdictions use to finance infrastructure.
On the government spending side, Congress simply extended funding until January 19. Negotiations are currently taking place in hopes of reaching a deal on spending caps (basically, the maximum spending for all agencies added together) for the next two years. Once that is settled, the various appropriations committees can finalize spending levels for each of the agencies. It’s likely we will see another extension into February while this is all hammered out.
Of particular note, in December Congress extended the CHIP children’s health insurance program through March 2018; to pay for it, they pulled $800 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund for FY2019 through 2022. That does still leave $800 million a year (increasing to $1.25 billion in FY2022) in the fund, but we are distressed to see children’s health care being pitted against health care and prevention programs (including healthy eating and active living initiatives!) for all Americans.
Now that the tax bill has been completed, there is renewed talk about the infrastructure package. There are reports that the White House will release a 70-page blueprint for the infrastructure package in late January. The chair of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Shuster (R-PA) has just announced he’ll be retiring at the end of 2018 and that he plans to spend his final year in office pushing for passage of the infrastructure bill. However, it is unclear at this point whether there will be any appetite in Congress to take up an expensive new bill, and whether there is any room for Democrats and Republicans to agree on the policy approach.