Washington Waves
Washington Waves

Congress Votes To Avert Rail Strike

Washington, D.C.—With support from President Joe Biden, Congress quickly approved a measure to avert a potential pre-Christmas rail strike that could wreak havoc on the nation’s economy. By a bipartisan vote of 290 to 137, HJR 100 was sent to the Senate, which quickly followed suit and approved it 80-15 December 1.

The bill now goes to Biden, who was expected to  sign it quickly.

The votes followed an abrupt about-face by Biden, who previously expressed opposition to such government intervention on talks between unions and the railroads.

“Without the certainty of a final vote to avoid a shutdown this week, railroads will begin to halt the movement of critical materials like chemicals to clean our drinking water as soon as this weekend,” Biden said in a statement.

The bill would impose a tentative agreement brokered earlier this year with Biden’s involvement that includes a pay hike and a bonus for rail workers.

Eight unions approved the agreement, but four rejected it.

By a smaller margin of 221 to 207, the House also passed a second bill, HCR 119, addressing rail workers’ sick leave, a major sticking point for some union members.

According to the White House, Biden wants to keep the focus on the bill to block the potential strike despite a record of supporting paid sick leave.

Budget Omnibus

Top congressional leaders agreed an omnibus package was the best way to finish work on fiscal year 2023 funding following a White House meeting with President Biden.

“I think everyone wants an omnibus. We have different views on what should be in the omnibus,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Schumer stressed that now “the door is open” to an omnibus. “It wasn’t a few days ago,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also commented on the meeting that included Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, both of California.

While suggesting concerns over national security would not favor passing another stopgap funding measure, McConnell suggested more discussions were needed on fiscal year 2023 funding.

In his comments to reporters, McCarthy laid down several markers on working with Democrats.

Those included getting spending under control, securing the southern border and working to make the U.S. energy independent.

“CRs (continuing resolutions) are not where we want to be, but if we cannot get our work done now, the outgoing majority, if they don’t want to work with us, we can get this work done in January as well,” he said, referring to the timing for his party to assume power in the House.

In addition to keeping the government funded after December 16, when the current stopgap measure expires, the unusually busy lame duck session also is expected to include action on an annual National Defense Authorization Act and the popular Water Resources Development Act, which may be included in the defense bill.

Transponder Training

The Coast Guard recommended that vessel owners, operators and crewmembers include in their training issues that may reduce the effectiveness of radar Search and Rescue Transponder (SART) during an emergency.

Safety Alert 12-22 was issued following a marine incident during which a survivor drifted in the water for three hours holding an activated 9 GHz (X-band radar) SART that was not detected by responding vessels.

Testing revealed that X-band radar settings optimal for navigation might actually prevent the SART signature from displaying on a vessel’s radar screen, and the “Auto” mode commonly used on X-band radars could reduce or completely eliminate the ability of the receiving radar to display a SART’s dots or circular lines.

Additionally, the orientation of the SART antenna and the height of the SART above the water affect the ability of an X-band radar to detect a SART.

Safety Alert 12-22 can be viewed at www.dco.uscg.mil, and questions may be sent to HQS-SMB-CGINV@uscg.mil.

MACOSH Nominations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requested nominations for membership on the Maritime Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH).

 Nominations must be submitted by January 13 and may be submitted with supporting materials at http://www.regulations.gov.

For additional information, contact Amy Wangdahl at 202-693-2066 or wangdahl.amy@dol.gov.

NMERPAC Subcommittee

The National Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (NMERPAC) subcommittee for Task Statement 22-4, Mariner Workforce Issues, is scheduled to meet December 19-20 in a hybrid in-person teleconference and meeting.

Hosted by the Office of Merchant Mariner Credentialing, the in-person portion will be held at the Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Space is expected to be limited, and only registered attendees will be able to attend in person.

To sign up, contact Megan Johns Henry at megan.c.johns@uscg.mil by December 7.

Others must attend the virtual meeting offered through Microsoft Teams and will receive the connection information through the NMERPAC mailing list.

If not already on that list, contact Johns Henry by email.

Medical Advisory Committee 

The National Merchant Mariner Medical Advisory Committee (NMEDMAC) has scheduled separate teleconferences on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Prevention and Culture Change in the Merchant Marine and Recommendations on Mariner Mental Health.

Both will be hosted by the Office of Merchant Mariner Credentialing.

The teleconference on preventing sexual assault and harassment is set to begin at 10 a.m. on December 13.

The teleconference on mental health is set to begin at 10 a.m. on December 15.

Those who want to attend teleconferences but are not on the NMEDMAC email list should contact Dr. Adrienne Buggs at adrienne.m.buggs@uscg.mil.

ANS Task Force

The Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force is scheduled to meet January 11-12 in Falls Church, Va.

Open to the public, the meetings are set to begin at 8 a.m. Eastern time on both days at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Va. 22041.

Registration is required with a deadline on January 6; virtual participation also will be available via teleconference.

For additional information or to register and receive the web address and telephone number for virtual participation, contact Susan Pasko at 703-358-2466 or Susan_Pasko@fws.gov or visit the task force website at www.fws.gov/program/aquatic-nuisance-species-taskforce.

Individuals in the U.S. who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability may dial 711 (TTY, TDD, or TeleBraille).

Demurrage and Detention

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) cited a posting delay in issuing another notice that its draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) related to proposed regulations on Demurrage and Detention Billing Requirements is now available at www.regulations.gov.

Petitions for review of the FONSI must be submitted by December 9 via www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FMC-2022-0066, Demurrage and Detention Billing Requirements.

Unless a petition for review is filed, the FONSI will become final within 10 days of the publication of this document in the Federal Register on November 29.

For additional information, contact William Cody at 202-523-5908 or secretary@fmc.gov.