While defense this week focused primarily on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the defense appropriations bill pending in the Senate also contains several provisions that are of significance for transportation funding in fiscal year 2006.
Passage of the conference agreement on the defense appropriations bill (H.R. 2863) was one of the last actions taken by the House of Representatives before they adjourned. But the conference agreement has kicked off a firestorm in the Senate where Democrats threatened a filibuster to prevent the opening of the ANWR to oil exploration. An attempt to invoke cloture and block a threatened Democratic filibuster on Dec. 21 to keep ANWR part of the appropriation bill failed when Senate Republicans could not generate enough votes to achieve the 60-vote margin needed to invoke cloture.
To help ensure the passage of the $453.5 billion defense appropriations conference agreement, Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) included a host of sweeteners ranging from hurricane relief funds to first responder funding and funding for preparations for a possible flu pandemic.
The Senate passed the conference report without the ANWR provision on Dec. 21.
Highway emergency relief
Included in the Defense bill is a provision that makes available $2.75 billion from the General Fund to cover all Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) emergency relief claims resulting from Hurricane Katrina, Wilma and Rita. That funding is part of a reallocation of some $62.3 billion in hurricane relief funds appropriated early this fall to the Federal Emergency Management Administration, but not yet spent.
Across-the-board spending cut
Included in the conference agreement is a 1% cut on all FY 2006 domestic spending. Analysts project that the cut could result in a reduction of approximately $250 million in the obligation limitation for FY 2006.
The FHWA has yet to provide the FY 2006 obligation authority to the states, even though the DOT appropriations bill was signed into law on Nov. 30. Because the obligation authority of had been issued under the stopgap FY 2006 continuing resolutions, states have had limited authority to proceed with federal projects. However, in some cases that obligation authority is running low, making the urgency of issuing the 2006 obligation authority critical.
Rescission of $1.143 billion in highway contract authority included
The third provision of the defense conference report to affect transportation is a rescission of $1.143 billion from the balances of contract authority. The FHWA will need to issue guidance on how to apply the rescissions. That action will likely not come until early next year.