Streams

 

Congress

The Takeaway

President Obama Sends 2013 Budget to Congress

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday morning, President Obama sends Congress his 2013 budget plan. The president’s budget includes stimulus-style spending increases on highway construction projects, schools, and other public works. It also includes increased taxes for wealthy Americans and corporations. What it doesn’t include are significant cuts, and the president already getting push-back from Republicans about his plan. They say it avoids making needed sacrifices and that it doesn’t do enough to curb the deficit or keep the rapid growth of benefit programs like Medicare in check.

Comments [1]

WNYC News

NYC Republicans May Vote Against GOP Transit Bill

Friday, February 10, 2012

At least three New York City Republicans are expressing reservations about their party's transportation bill. The legislation would stop funding mass transit through a federal gasoline tax for the first time in about three decades.

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

Undaunted by Redistricting, John Mica Declares He's Staying Put

Friday, February 10, 2012

Florida Congressional Districts

Representative John Mica will run in his current, but remapped, Congressional District 7 in central Florida. The nine-term Republican Congressman and current chair of the House Transportation Committee was dealt a re-election hurdle with  Florida's redistricting plan that pitted several formidable Republican candidates against each other. Mica waited until after two others declared in which districts they would run before committing to his own.

"After consultation with my wife Pat, my family and my supporters, I have decided to continue my public service in what constitutes District 7 in the final map approved by the Florida Legislature, which includes Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties," Mica said in a statement Friday.

This sets up a potentially tough primary for the top transportation legislator as he will face Sandy Adams of Orlando. She's a first term incumbent who also resides in the newly formed 7th district and which now includes about 50 percent of her current constituency according to Sunshine State News.

Mica is well funded however, and says he wants to finish work he has underway. "Weighing heavily in this decision were two major factors, first my commitment to significant transportation projects like SunRail for our community and infrastructure for our nation" as well as projects for  seniors and veterans.

Mica won reelection in 2010 with 69 percent of the vote.

For more updates on all things central Florida, tune into WMFE. Or see the maps and data at the Florida State Senate website.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

GOP House Works to Undo Reagan Legacy on Transportation

Thursday, February 09, 2012

President Ronald Reagan on a whistle stop train tour, 1984

There was another moment like ours, not so long ago. The economy was in recession, unemployment was high, our transportation infrastructure was in sorry shape, deficit reduction was widely considered a national priority, and the President and Congress were struggling with how to steer the nation out of the swamp it was in.

At this other moment, in 1982, President Ronald Reagan was at the helm. And as the FHWA historian Richard Weingroff writes in his riveting and comprehensive history of the episode, Reagan worked to overcome a Republican filibuster to raise the gas tax by 125%, from four to nine cents a gallon, securing capital funding for both roads and transit. Then, as now, the gas tax hadn’t been increased in twenty years, not even to keep pace with inflation.

Reagan also agreed to devote a penny—20% of the increase—to capital improvements to transit. It was this bill, The Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982, that created the dedicated Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund—a marriage that’s been a going policy for almost 30 years. At this point, the Highway Trust Fund has included dedicated capital funding for transit longer than it existed without one.

Of course, many contemporary Republican members of Congress identify Reagan as their ideological progenitor. But their current proposals, at least in the House, would reverse the carefully considered and hard-fought precedent their hero set.

In his first State of the Union address, that January, Reagan had initially endorsed a “New Federalist” approach to transportation that would have devolved the federal program and left the work of road-building to the states, with encouragement to privatize all but the most essential work, while relaxing environmental protections in the name of cutting red tape. He also swore against raising taxes.

But a year later, the day before he signed the STAA, Reagan explained why he’d made an exception for the gas tax. “It was a year ago that Secretary Drew Lewis presented the plan and the necessity for rebuilding our roads and our highways and our bridges, because we’re faced with the possibility of tragedy in some instances,” Reagan said. “And the proposal was, as we called it, a ‘user fee’ to differentiate this as not a tax for general revenues. This is a tax to do this particular task.”

Even in a recession, raising the gas tax—and using a portion for transit—wasn’t considered a radical agenda in 1982. AASHTO (which had only recently updated its name to add a ‘T’ for Transportation after the ‘H’ for Highways) strongly supported the tax increase and the creation of the transit account. Another advocate for a dedicated transit account argued that “the time has come for us to recognize that highways and transit are inseparable—the two modes are interdependent and complementary.” What radical put this idea forward? Federal Highway Administrator Ray A. Barnhart, a Reagan appointee from Texas.

Once his mind was made up, Reagan fought hard for the gas tax increase. Senator Jesse Helms and a handful of other Republican Senators tried to filibuster the bill until the end of the lame duck session, but Reagan flew more supportive Senators in air force planes in the days before Christmas to get it passed. (Weingroff cites this battle over the 1982 Surface Transportation Assistance Act as the genesis of a longstanding rift between Republican conservatives and moderates.)

The great communicator made it simple: the funding mechanism was sensible and fair, and it would be relatively painless compared to watching our infrastructure turn to gravel. In a November radio address, he cleverly pointed out that the tax increase “will cost the average car owner only about $30 a year. That's less than the cost of a couple of shock absorbers.” And anyway, we needed to do it, to keep “this magnificent system” worthy of our great nation. Also, by the way, it would create jobs and allow the economy to grow.

Our current leaders and legislators are certain that it’s impossible to carry this exact same message today. Presently, to avoid asking users to pay what Reagan asked Americans to pay in 1982, the House and Senate are instead twisting themselves into contortions, interpretive dances that clearly reflect other agendas beyond mobility.

The House’s widely derided transportation and energy bill uses revenue from new drilling to pay for roads, and divorces transit, biking, and pedestrian funding from the Highway Trust Fund, setting those alternative transportation modes adrift in the general fund, where its safety cannot be guaranteed. The Senate has crafted a two-year bill maintaining the transit and highway formulas, but drawing needed additional revenue from a convoluted set of funding mechanisms that give the impression of lawmakers rifling through the federal couch cushions. The bills are so fundamentally different that a conference committee compromise seems almost impossible.

For many years now transportation journalists, wonks, and stakeholders have enjoyed saying—and knowing—that their area of concern was uniquely bipartisan. Legislators and executives from both parties, at all levels of government, have been able to debate in relatively good faith, secure in the feeling that the need for good infrastructure, and the justification for government to take part in building it, were agreed-upon principles. (One prominent conservative supporter of federal transit spending? Rick Santorum, who did rather well this week.)

True, some championed rail more than others, and some favored privatization and tolls over tax financing. But it always seemed like the variations were relatively minor, at least compared to the shared dedication to the overall goals of mobility. With the introduction of the House and Senate transportation bills, that feeling has gone away, and it’s hard to know how permanent the unravelling will be. Reagan's gas tax hike happened in a lame duck session after a mid-term election. Nothing so bipartisan or moderate is likely to be openly discussed in the buildup to a Presidential showdown. Maybe Congress should consider doing what it's done best these last few years: punt.

 

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

Read More

Comments [1]

It's A Free Blog

Opinion: Why No Work Should Equal No Pay for Congress and the President

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

'No Budget, No Pay' proposes that Congress wouldn't get paid if they didn't pass the budget and the 13 appropriations bills on time, by Sept. 30, each year.

Read More

Comments [6]

The Takeaway

New Report Uncovers Suspicious Earmarks

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Nationwide confidence in our lawmakers is at an all time low. And this news isn't like to change that. More than 30 members of Congress have used over $ 300 million in earmarks and other spending to fund many public projects close to their own properties. That's the finding of an extensive investigation published in today's Washington Post. The Post also found 16 lawmakers who had sent tax dollars to places where members of their families work or serve on boards.

Comment

Transportation Nation

Boehner: Keystone XL to Ride on GOP's Highway Bill

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Truck hauling pipeline pipe in Kansas (photo by Steve Meirowsky via Wikimedia Commons)

House Republicans intend to use their upcoming highway and infrastructure bill to push for approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, Speaker John Boehner said Sunday.

“If it’s not enacted before we take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, it’ll be part of it,” Boehner said during an interview on ABC's "This Week".

The controversial pipeline has become a political flashpoint between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans demanded an expedited Obama Administration decision on the pipeline's approval as part of a deal temporarily extending payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits back in December. The administration rejected the approval earlier this month, setting off GOP criticism that President Obama's political allies were preventing a project that could grow jobs.

House and Senate negotiators are now bargaining over a one-year payroll tax extension, and Boehner's statement suggests Republicans are keen to avoid another bruising confrontation with Democrats over the pipeline issue.

“[E]xtending the payroll tax cut that the president has called for, the House has already passed the year-long extension.  We are in a formal conference with the Senate, and I’m confident that we’ll be able to resolve this fairly quickly," Boehner said.

Instead, it appears Keystone may become one of a long list of domestic energy projects Republicans try to promote in their upcoming highway and infrastructure bill. The five-year bill calls for $260 billion in highway funding, financed partially through expansions in domestic energy production. Details of the bill are expected this week, and House Republican aides say they expect it to come to the floor in February.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

 

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

LaHood: Politics Means No Surface Transportation Bill This Year

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood doesn't think there's much chance Congress will pass a surface transportation spending bill this year.

The bill is on its way to being three years late -- it was supposed to be reauthorized in September, 2009.

"Given the politics, the number of days that remain, the differences between what the Senate and House are looking at -- I think its very unlikely we will have a surface transportation bill during this year of Congress," LaHood told a gathering of transportation professionals at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting.

"When you look at the number of days that Congress will be in session -- it is limited.  Given the political atmosphere that is around us now with presidential politics and every member of Congress seeking reelection in November that obviously will play into what happens."

LaHood told reporters after the panel that another big obstacle is the differences between the two-year Senate bill and the five-year House bill, which as of yet has no "pay-fors." "I think the difference between a two-year bill and a five-year bill is a pretty big gulf to overcome particually given the number of legilsative days," LaHood said.

But his remarks seemed to take his own top aides by surprise.

"I didn't hear him say we're not going to have a reauthorization bill this year," said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, who was in the audience and left with Secretary LaHood.. "I'm an optimist, the real way we are going to put people to work the fastest and make progress on all these policies, is by getting a reauthorization bill as soon as possible."

LaHood's comments came at a panel of transportation secretaries going back to Alan Boyd, who was Lyndon B. Johnson's transportation secretary.  The moderator asked the secretaries if they were optimistic or pessimistic about the future of transportation funding.

“I’m hopeful but I’m very concerned," said Boyd, who went first, "because it seems to me looking and listening as I do now from my vantage point in Seattle so many of my fellow Americans want to have good roads, good bridges, but they don’t want to pay for it, they want somebody else to pay for it. There is this sense to me  around the country: no new taxes.  The world keeps changing and if America is going to be the leader it says it is and wants to be its got to improve its infrastructure. "

(LaHood did express optimism about the future of high speed rail -- that story here.)

 

 

 

Read More

Comment

It's A Free Blog

Opinion: Congress This Year: Like Last Year, Only Worse

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

For all the bad that happened last year, most everything that led to gridlock isn't going anywhere, and in many cases will be worse.

Read More

Comment

Transportation Nation

President Kills Pipeline: Full Statement

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

UPDATED WITH STATE DEPARTMENT RELEASE:

From the White House:

Statement by the President on the Keystone XL Pipeline

Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.

This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people. I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil. Under my Administration, domestic oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are down. In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security –including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico – even as we set higher efficiency standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels and natural gas. And we will do so in a way that benefits American workers and businesses without risking the health and safety of the American people and the environment.

And here's the release by the state department:

Denial of the Keystone XL Pipeline Application

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 18, 2012

Today, the Department of State recommended to President Obama that the presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline be denied and, that at this time, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline be determined not to serve the national interest. The President concurred with the Department’s recommendation, which was predicated on the fact that the Department does not have sufficient time to obtain the information necessary to assess whether the project, in its current state, is in the national interest.

Since 2008, the Department has been conducting a transparent, thorough, and rigorous review of TransCanada’s permit application for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project. As a result of this process, particularly given the concentration of concerns regarding the proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, on November 10, 2011, the Department announced that it could not make a national interest determination regarding the permit application without additional information. Specifically, the Department called for an assessment of alternative pipeline routes that avoided the uniquely sensitive terrain of the Sand Hills in Nebraska. The Department estimated, based on prior projects of similar length and scope, that it could complete the necessary review to make a decision by the first quarter of 2013. In consultations with the State of Nebraska and TransCanada, they agreed with the estimated timeline.

On December 23, 2011, the Congress passed the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (“the Act”). The Act provides 60 days for the President to determine whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest – which is insufficient for such a determination.

The Department’s denial of the permit application does not preclude any subsequent permit application or applications for similar projects.

 

Read More

Comments [1]

It's A Free Blog

Opinion: Online Piracy Bill Threatens Innovation, Web Freedom

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hidden behind the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)'s relatively benign name are rules that go far and beyond past what a copyright holder needs to stop file sharing of the material they own.

Read More

Comment

The Takeaway

The Agenda: South Carolina GOP Debates, Congress Returns from Recess, Earnings Reports

Monday, January 16, 2012

This week Congress returns from recess and Republican presidential hopefuls step up campaigning in South Carolina. Google, Microsoft, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, along with other major companies, will announce earning reports. Myrtle Beach's visitors bureau welcomes the six GOP candidates for a debate with a 525-ton sand sculpture of their likenesses; meanwhile, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert mulls throwing his hat into the ring.

Comment

The Takeaway

One Year After Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Shooting

Monday, January 09, 2012

Sunday marked one year since the Tuscon, Arizona shooting where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords suffered a gunshot wound to head. In total, thirteen people were injured and six other killed, including the shooter. At 10:11 a.m., when the shooting started, church bells and bells passed out to residents will ring out across Tucson. 

Comments [1]

The Takeaway

Election 2012: The Year Ahead

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Although some GOP hopefuls have been informally campaigning since this time last year and Barack Obama announced his campaign for reelection back in April, the January 3rd caucus will be the true beginning for the 2012 presidential race. This year, $5.9 million has been spent on TV advertising alone in Iowa. With no heavily favored Republican candidate, the strategy for turning fundraising dollars into actual votes has yet to reveal itself.

Comments [2]

The Takeaway

As Country Suffers in Recession, Congress Gets Richer

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The economic downturn that has destroyed lives and businesses throughout the country has managed to avoid Capitol Hill. According to an analysis from The Washington Post, members of Congress have become much wealthier as many Americans have seen their finances shrink. The median net worth of a member of Congress is now $913,000 and climbing. Peter Whoriskey of The Washington Post discusses the growing economic gap between lawmakers and their constituents.

Comments [1]

WNYC News

DiNapoli: Payroll Tax Will Save NY Economy Over $1B

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The two month payroll tax cut extension agreed to by congressional leaders will save New York's economy $1.2 billion, according to analysis from State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office. 

Comment

WNYC News

GOP Leader Announces Deal on Payroll Tax Cut

Thursday, December 22, 2011

House Speaker John Boehner announced an agreement with the Senate on a two-month payroll tax cut. President Barack Obama congratulated Congress for ending the "partisan stalemate," over extending the tax cut.

Comment

The Brian Lehrer Show

Washington Gridlock v 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rosalind Helderman, Washington Post Congressional reporter, discusses the showdown over the payroll tax and who stands to win - and lose.

Comments [10]

WNYC News

House GOP Rejects Payroll Tax Cut, Boehner Calls on President to Make Senate Bargain

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The House Tuesday rejected legislation to extend a payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for two months, drawing a swift rebuke from President Barack Obama that Republicans were threatening higher taxes on 160 million workers on Jan. 1.

Comments [3]

The Brian Lehrer Show

Payroll Tax Fight in Congress

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Politico congressional reporter Manu Raju discusses what's at issue with the fight in Congress over the payroll tax holiday. 

Comments [7]