A split vote for rail freight, as Congress observes

With the help of Oriana Pawlyk and Tanya Snyder

— The two largest rail freight unions today shared their contract votes while Congress prepares to intervene to avert a costly strike.

— The housekeeping campaigns officially begin, although minority leader Kevin McCarthy’s path to 218 votes in his bid for the speaker could be challenging.

— Tribal leaders say the federal government is not doing enough Build roads on tribal lands.

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“Oh, railroad days/railroad days/railroad days/when i was young, in my prime/on my way/when the rain never got in my way/oh in my younger railroad days.”

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THE REAL ELECTION DAY: The two largest rail freight unions have split their votes on agreeing to a deal, a mixed signal in months of high-stakes negotiations that could result in a closure of the country’s rail freight network from next month, your MT host and Tanya report. Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen voted to accept a September 15 tentative agreement, while members of the SMART Transportation Division voted to reject their proposed contract. SMART-TD shipyard masters, voting separately from the rest of the larger union, voted to ratify their agreement.

PEB GOP PUSH: Republicans in the House and Senate say they will push to legislate recommendations put forward in August by a panel appointed by President Joe Biden, your MT host and Tanya Report. While the rail haulers accepted these recommendations, the unions did not because they were not concerned with attendance policies that ordinary workers had denounced for years. Democrats are urging railroads to agree to more paid sick leave.

READY TO GO: Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), the top Republican on the House subcommittee that oversees railroads, told POLITICO that “we have something prepared if necessary, but I hope it isn’t necessary.” Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he also has the language ready.

BOOST OR BLOW? The split vote to ratify the interim contract agreement by the two largest unions, which together represent about half of the 125,000 workers involved in the negotiations, is increasing pressure on Congress to avert a shutdown. The possibility of a shutdown in September resulted in certain rail movements being canceled and passenger trains running on freight rails being closed. A full-blown strike would cost the economy billions.

REGENERATING START: With time running out for House Democrats to attempt to finalize automated vehicle legislation, Republicans are poised to pick up where they left off four years ago when the AV START Act, S. 1885(115), failed. “I look forward to the next convention where we can get back to work on this,” said Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) had been meeting with automakers, litigators and organized workers for over a year to try to bridge some of the rifts that had sealed the trial in 2018 , but time is almost up for the Democrat-controlled House.

Start again: Latta downplayed any progress Democrats had made bringing the parties together and said he plans to restart the stakeholder consultation process in the new year. Latta no longer chairs the consumer protection and trade body responsible for the issue, but still expects to be the GOP point of contact for this issue in the future.

SURPRISE SURPRISE: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.) has officially announced his candidacy for minority leader of the House of Representatives in the next Congress, and he is widely expected to become the first black member of Congress to hold the top spot in party leadership. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguliar (D-Calif.) are seeking the No. 2 and No. 3 positions, and the trio have spent months building support behind the scenes before officially making bids on Friday announced after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Whip Jim Clyburn announced that they would step down from their leadership positions.

MATH PROBLEM: So far, at least three House Republicans have said they will not vote for McCarthy as speaker, complicates his path to 218 votes after Republicans won a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in the next congress. Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) are all against McCarthy, while Biggs himself received 31 votes for the GOP’s speaker nominee in a secret ballot this week. According to POLITICO forecasts, the GOP currently has 218 seats in the House of Representatives and will preferably win three of the five seats not yet called up. Each additional GOP win likely helps McCarthy’s quest for 218 speaker votes.

NOMINATIONS ON THE MOVE: The Senate EPW Committee announced that FHWA administrator candidate Shailen Bhatt and EPA administrator candidate Joseph Goffman will receive a vote in committee on Nov. 29. Bhatt served as executive director of the Colorado DOT and secretary of the Delaware DOT, and was the FHWA’s assistant administrator for policy and government affairs during the Obama administration.

TRIBAL QUESTIONS: Source New Mexico had a good handle on DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s visit to tribal leaders last week, and they said the federal government isn’t doing enough to pave into infrastructure like roads, as federal data shows that 60 percent of tribal roads are unpaved. Tribal leaders told Buttigieg that they lost federal money due to formula funding requirements that are different for tribes than states and that they missed grant application deadlines while trying to field engineers and specialists for projects.

“We always have to deal with this white tape. I call it white tape. A lot of people call it bureaucracy, but I call it white tape because someone else is making these regulations for us,” said Ron Shutiva, the tribal liaison for the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

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– “Aviation Enthusiasts Mourn Their Lives at Dallas Air Show, Await Inquiry.” Dallas Morning News.

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