This week in Washington

This week in Washington…

Transportation bill passes Senate; House bill has big cuts

Nineteen Republican Senators joined Democrats to pass a $54 billion Transportation budget bill last week, which also covers funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The House bill appropriates $44 billion, a $7 billion cut from sequester levels, and cuts funding for high-speed rail.

Later in the week, the Senate passed a bill to make bridge projects a priority for spending and rejected an amendment to cut transportation funding to sequester levels.

Democrats have pushed for a conference committee to try to iron out the major differences between the House and Senate bills, but so far Republicans arent expressing interest.

President Obama strongly supports the Senate bill and has said he would veto the House version. During the week Obama gave a speech in Florida about the need to improve the nations infrastructure, which has become a serious problem in recent years with bridges collapsing and water main breaks that damage roads.

Gas tax hike, rear view camera rule discussed in House

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee debated the possibility of raising the 18.4 cent a gallon federal gas tax last week. It has not been raised since 1993, and now theres a $20 billion gap between transportation revenue and spending.

The gas tax brings in about $35 billion a year. With people driving more fuel efficient cars and driving them less, that amount is not likely to rise if the gas tax stays the same. Under last years surface transportation bill, which expires September 30, 2014, Congress spent $54 billion a year – and it had that much only because it shifted funds from other parts of the federal budget.

In other action in the House:

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is pushing for enactment of a car rearview camera backup rule, which has languished in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for two years. The rule, designed to prevent cars from accidentally backing up over children, would require installation of the cameras in all new models. It would cost automakers up to $2.7 billion a year, according to one analysis.

The House Appropriations Committee plans to use the $16.6 billion left in the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program to help fight wildfires. The Energy Department has used less than $9 billion of the $25 billion approved in 2008 to help auto plants build more fuel-efficient cars. Recipients of the loans have included Ford ($5.9 billion), Nissan ($1.4 billion), Tesla ($500 million) and Fisker ($300 million). More than 100 companies have applied for loans, but no applications are pending.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the controversial Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates 36 billion gallons of biofuel to be blended into petroleum by 2022. Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said the current system cannot stand. The oil industry wants the standard repealed, but Midwestern representatives are fighting that idea. Both sides have run several ads on the subject.

Most support ban on smoking in cars with children

The vast majority of adults (87 percent) support a ban on smoking in cars with children under 18, according to a poll by the C.S. Mott Childrens Hospital National Poll on Childrens Health. Even among smokers, 60 percent strongly support a ban.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has been pushing for a ban on smoking in cars with children since 2007. Seven states – Arkansas, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon and Utah – have statewide bans on smoking in cars carrying children. Hawaii, Indiana, New Jersey and New York have cities or counties with such laws.

The level of secondhand smoke in cars can be 10 times more concentrated than the level considered safe by the EPA, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.

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