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Transportation Nation

High Speed Rail Takes a Hit in Budget Deal

Monday, April 11, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Congress managed to avoid a government shutdown over the weekend. But guess who paid for it? Supporters of the Obama Administration's high-speed rail program.

Meanwhile, transportation projects are set to take another hit in the spending agreement that funds the government until September 30.

Lawmakers managed to avoid a shutdown by announcing a spending deal at about 10:30 pm on Friday. But it was too late to draft the deal into legislative text by the midnight deadline, so the House and Senate also quickly approved a one-week spending measure to bridge the gap. But with many lawmakers committed to vote only for budget bills that reduce spending, even the short-term "bridge" carried $2 billion in cuts. That's where rail comes in. The agreement took $1.5 billion from high-speed rail projects immediately, forming the lion's share of the total cuts.  However, that cut will not affect existing grants.

President Obama signed the measure on Saturday, making the cuts a done done deal. But for transportation watchers on Capitol Hill the fun isn't over yet.

"Now up on the Hill, the fine print is being worked out," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday.

Details of the five-and-a-half month spending bill that avoided the shutdown are expected by tomorrow. But tucked inside is likely to be another big hit on transportation projects. In the high-stakes money hunt, Republican and Democratic negotiators sniffed out $2 billion to $2.5 billion in spending authority lurking on the books in the transportation committee.

That means that up to $2.5 billion in possible future spending for transportation projects got raided by leaders to help them reach their $38 billion spending cut deal.

"We basically took it," a Democratic negotiator said. "We're taking House transportation money away from them."

More details should emerge after Hill staff finish drafting the spending deal. But that won't be the last word in the budget frenzy going on on in the Capitol. President Obama will lay out his vision for deficit and debt reduction in a speech in Washington on Wednesday.

And debate has already begun on a budget plan for Fiscal 2012, where Republicans are demanding steep reductions in domestic spending. Before that, get ready for a fight on the federal debt limit. Republicans have said they won't vote to raise the limit without as-yet unspecified spending limits that could easily reach transportation programs.

Carney said Monday that the White House wants a "clean" vote on the debt limit without spending cuts attached. On that score, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has said, "Not a chance."

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The Takeaway

Government Shutdown Averted... What's Next?

Monday, April 11, 2011

A government shutdown was averted in the 11th hour last Friday, as Congress and the White House came to a temporary resolution on the budget crisis. President Barack Obama will give a speech on Wednesday night detailing how he hopes to reduce the deficit. But the budget debate is not over, and is actually just beginning, according to The Takeaway's Washington correspondent, Todd Zwillich. Republicans want spending drastically reduced, and Democrats want taxes increased — this will make for an even more dramatic confrontation between party lines as the issue of the debt arrives.

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The Takeaway

How Hard Will a Government Shutdown Hurt the Economy?

Friday, April 08, 2011

With less than a day before the current stopgap budget bill runs out, President Obama met with Congressional leaders to try to prevent a government shutdown. But politicians are not just worried about the fallout a shutdown could have for their 2012 campaign. There is also a worry about the economic ramifications, which would ripple down from Capital Hill to Wall Street and, ultimately, Main Street.

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Transportation Nation

New Motorcoach Safety Bill Introduced in Congress

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) In the wake of a string of deadly bus accidents, a Senate hearing, and chilling preliminary findings from the NTSB, Congressman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) has introduced a motorcoach safety bill, Wednesday. It's not the only one either.

Shuster's bill has two Democratic co-sponsors already. The Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety (BUSES) Act of 2011 calls for a tighter controls and enforcement of bus driver screening, including calling for federal oversight of state requirements for commercial licenses. What the bill does not do, is mandate safety reforms to the buses themselves by a certain date.

“My legislation also recognizes that the best safety improvements come from sound science and empirical study, not from bureaucratic government mandate,” Shuster said in a statement. Shuster's spokesman Jeff  Urbanchuk explained to Transportation Nation, "The idea here is government putting a mandate with a date certain on an entire industry generally does not work out too well."

That's in contrast to the other bus safety bill that was previously introduced, the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act of 2009. That bill introduced in the last session of Congress by John Lewis (D-Georgia) , along with a version in the Senate introduced by Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tx), calls for specific alterations to buses themselves, like adding seat belts, and strengthening the windows and structure of the buses to prevent passengers from being ejected during accidents.

Bus industry officials say this kind of requirement would impose a prohibitive cost burden on them and prefer voluntary safety improvements already underway.

The Brown-Hutchison bill -- like the Shuster bill -- suggests new measures for preventing unqualified drivers from getting behind the wheel of a passenger bus.

Either bill could be incorporated into the transportation reauthorization bill.

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The Takeaway

Medicaid and Medicare Under Rep. Ryan's Budget

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), unveiled his budget yesterday, proposing cuts of some $6.2 trillion over the next decade. Medicare and Medicaid will fundamentally change under Ryan's plan — with Medicare losing $389 billion, and $735 billion being cut from Medicaid. Todd Zwillich, The Takeaway's Washington correspondent details what parts of the budget will affect Americans the most. Theda Skocpol, professor of sociology and government at Harvard University, explains how Medicare and Medicaid will change under Ryan's plan.

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The Takeaway

Washington: Obama Launches Reelection Campaign, Threats of Gov't Shutdown

Monday, April 04, 2011

President Barack Obama announced his plans to run for reelection in a web video early Monday. Meanwhile, Friday is the deadline for Congress to negotiate a federal budget deal for 2011; and the budget for 2012 still needs to be settled. Todd Zwillich, Takeaway Washington correspondent has the latest from the Capitol.

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Transportation Nation

Congress Could Get First FAA Bill in Years

Sunday, April 03, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) The House has passed a four-year Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill 223 to 196, setting up talks with the Senate that could lead to the first aviation policy renewal in years.

But those talks could get complicated by perennial political issues, as Republicans strive to weaken recruitment in some sectors of the aviation industry. There's even a veto threat coming from the White House.

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Congress hasn't passed a reauthorization for FAA since 2003. Instead it's racked up 17 temporary extensions as agreements eluded the House and Senate. Friday's House bill authorizes $60 billion in spending over four years for the FAA, airports, freight programs and even some new GPS-based air traffic control systems. That's a reduction back to 2008 spending levels at the FAA.

"It acknowledges that – especially in these tough economic times – the federal government must make spending cuts while at the same time providing necessary services and maintaining our current high safety levels,” Rep. Chip Cravaak, a pilot who chairs the aviation subcommittee, said in a statement. Cravaak, a Minnesota Republican, knocked off long-time incumbent and transportation committee chairman Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010 mid-term election.

That take doesn't wash with a lot of Democrats.

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The Takeaway

Split Over Budget, Congress Anticipates Gov. Shutdown

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

After weeks of temporary fixes and political battling, Congress is preparing for a government shutdown over the national budget. What is preventing Republicans and Democrats from finding common ground? It could be the Tea Party, which is planning a rally for Thursday at the Capitol to call on Republican leadership to make no compromises on spending. Takeaway Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich has more about this continuing standoff and the implications of a shutdown.

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It's A Free Country ®

Another Budget Concession for Dems?

Monday, March 28, 2011

WNYC

With less than two weeks left to compromise and avoid a government shutdown, Democrats are assembling another proposal with more concessions.

The Democrats proposal will have approximately $20 billion additional spending cuts that could soon be offered to Republicans, according to the Wall Street Journal. This proposal would come after $10 billion in enacted spending cuts for the year. Republicans are seeking a total of $61 billion in in budget cuts and are under pressure from the Tea Party to get all of these cuts through the gauntlet.

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The Takeaway

This Week's Agenda: Libya, Middle East, Unemployment

Monday, March 28, 2011

With support from coalition forces in the air, Libyan rebel forces have been able to recapture recent losses and are pushing towards Col. Moammar Gadhafi's strongholds. However, the U.S. is committed to passing responsibility on and Defense Secretary Robert Gates told NBC's "Meet the Press," "beginning this week or within the next week or so, we will begin to diminish the commitment of resources that we have committed to this." Marcus Mabry, editor-at-large of the International Herald Tribune, looks at how the impact of a U.S. drawdown could impact the situation in Libya.

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The Takeaway

How Will Congress React to President's Libya Speech?

Monday, March 28, 2011

President Obama will speak about Libya Monday evening. His speech comes on the heels of NATO taking full control of the operation in Libya. Todd Zwillich, Takeaway Washington correspondent helps shed light on the debate in Congress over whether our involvement in Libya is in the country's best interest. How will Congress react to the president's speech? There are rumblings of an effort de-fund the effort in Libya by some Democratic members in the House.

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It's A Free Country ®

America Worries as Government Mucks Through Budget

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

WNYC
The problem is when things are pitched in general terms, people tend to reactively oppose them...but when you get more specific, like what about this kind of change what about that kind of change, people express less resistance. But right now the conversation is still in these broad general terms which leads to a lot of resistance from the public.

Michael Dimock,associate director for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, on the Brian Lehrer Show.

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The Takeaway

Do Acts of War Need Acts of Congress?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Since President Obama authorized military action in Libya, politicians on both sides of the aisle have complained the president did not follow the proper and legal channels towards war. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) said the President's decision might render him impeachable. House speaker John Boehner (R-OH) complained that Obama hadn't briefed members of Congress. Technically speaking, should the President have asked Congress before attacking Libya? 

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It's A Free Country ®

Sen. Menendez on Libya, Oil and the Federal Budget

Monday, March 21, 2011

WNYC
In order to establish a no-fly zone and leave our coalition allies together, and the men and women who serve us safe...it takes a degree of military strikes to stop the command and control abilities to knock out the air monitoring systems, to ensure that the very civilians that the Arab League wants us to protect, can be protected...If we could do it with a magic wand and stop all of Libyan air fights from taking place...then we'd love to do that, but that's not the way it works.

Sen. Robert Menendez, N..J. Democrat and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, on the Brian Lehrer Show.

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The Takeaway

Congress Reacts: US Military Intervention in Libya

Monday, March 21, 2011

Over the last few days, the U.S. moved very quickly from a U.N. resolution authorizing military intervention in Libya to missiles and bombs actually striking the country. In many ways, members of Congress are still catching up with the news from the White House and they have been reacting both with support and anger. Who's in charge of the no-fly zone: Britain, France or the U.S.? Who exactly are the Libyan rebels we're supporting? And why didn't President Obama consult Congress before authorizing military intervention?

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The Takeaway

Budget Battle Continues in Congress, House Votes to Defund Public Radio

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Republicans control one half of one third of our government. There are a lot of other players that we need to work with," House Speaker, John Boehner told the press Thursday as another budget extension was voted on. He finds himself between a rock and hard place, explains Takeaway Washington correspondent, Todd Zwillich. Rep. Boehner will have to negotiate with both the Tea Party and democrats Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and President Obama. Meanwhile, the House voted to defund public radio production in a bill that will likely not pass the Senate.

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It's A Free Country ®

Democrats and the Budget Extension

Thursday, March 17, 2011

If it takes a shutdown of the government for people to come to their senses, or as President Obama says, for the adults to get into the room, then perhaps that's what it will take.

—Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY)  on The Brian Lehrer Show.

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The Takeaway

Washington Responds to Japan's Nuclear Disaster

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Greg Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission briefed reporters at the White House on Tuesday, saying that a nuclear emergency like the one in Japan could not happen in the United States. “Based on the type of reactor design and the nature of the accident we see a very low likelihood, really a very low probability that there’s any possibility of harmful radiation levels in the United States or in Hawaii, or in any other U.S. territories," he said.

However, Washington is edge about what to do about our own nuclear power sources here in the U.S. Todd Zwillich, Washington correspondent for The Takeaway got reaction from the Capitol.

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It's A Free Country ®

From Nuclear Policy to a Budget Showdown

Monday, March 14, 2011

WNYC
This accident hits the pause button again when it comes to nuclear power. What it really does, whether it actually will prevent us from going forward and it may depend on what happens in Japan but we're really watching the situation with a lot of concern.

Susan Page, USA Today's Washington bureau chief, on the Brian Lehrer Show.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

The Week Ahead: Nuclear Policy, Budget Showdown, More

Monday, March 14, 2011

Susan Page, USA Today Washington bureau chief, talks about the week ahead in Congress and the White House response to domestic and international events.  Joseph Romm, senior fellow at Center for American Progress and founder of the blog, ClimateProgress.org, joins the conversation and discusses U.S. nuclear energy policy in light of what's happened in Japan in the aftermath of last week's earthquake.

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