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The Brian Lehrer Show

Cantor, Obama, and the Future of Dems vs. Repubs

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Yesterday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor delivered a high-profile policy speech "outlining initiatives to 'Make Life Work'." Janet Hook, Wall Street Journal politics reporter, discusses the proposals, the future of the GOP, and the looming fiscal negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.

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Transportation Nation

Dems Trip Up GOP on Highway Extension Again

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

House Speaker John Boehner (photo by Todd Zwillich)

For the second straight day, House Democrats have foiled an attempt by Republicans to pass a temporary Highway Bill extension designed to avoid a suspension of the gas tax and a shutdown of highway programs March 31.

Republicans were forced to pull a 60-day extension from the House floor Tuesday afternoon after Democrats refused to support the bill. Republicans were using an expedited procedure requiring support from 2/3 of the chamber for passage. That's just a day after a 90-extension was yanked under similar circumstances.

Democrats are sticking to their position that the House should take up the two-year, $109 billion Highway Bill the Senate passed earlier this month with 74 votes. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned House Republicans two weeks ago that they would have to accept the Senate bill -- or one similar to it -- unless they could reach agreement on their own broader measure. That never happened, and last week Boehner was back to panning the Senate bill.

Tuesday's move turns up the heat on House Republicans to either accept the Senate's bill or use a slower procedure for a temporary extension. The latter choice seems far more likely, as it will allow the Speaker to pass an extension with a bare majority of the House -- and avoid a revolt from conservatives unhappy with the Senate package.

There are a still a few days to go before current highway law (and the 18.4 cent gas tax feeding the Highway Trust Fund) expires. Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker Boehner, told Transportation Nation in an email, "There is only one reason this bill will not be voted on tonight:  House Democrats are playing political games with our nation’s economy.”

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich

 

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Transportation Nation

House Bill Could Cut $1.7 Billion in NYC Transit Funds

Monday, February 06, 2012

New York area lawmakers gather at Grand Central Terminal

UPDATED WITH HOUSE REPUBLICAN RESPONSE: There's more alarm about last week's House vote to change the way public transportation is funded.  A group of New York area lawmakers and transportation officials is  worried that the Republican sponsored bill would slash $1.7 billion dollars from New York State coffers.

The group painted a doomsday scenario, in which major projects, including the Second Avenue Subway, could be halted in their tracks, where service could deteriorate and fares would head skyward.

“Over time if you don't repair the system, if we don't get the money necessary to do the repairs and renovations of the system, it will raise fares,” said Joe Lhota, Chair of the NY MTA.

Lhota is the brand-new chief of the NY MTA, but it's relatively rare for an MTA chief to speak out on politics.  Lhota is a Republican, who was a Deputy Mayor to Rudy Giuliani.

He was joined by Deocratic  Reps. Joe Crowley (NY-7), Charlie Rangel (NY-15), Jerrold Nadler (NY-8), Carolyn Maloney (NY-14), at a press conference Monday morning at New York City's Grand Central Terminal.

The group said the proposed legislation would adversely affect urban and suburban commuters across the country.

The proposed Republican bill would eliminate the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, signed into law by President Ronald Regan in 1983.  That legislation created a dedicated funding source for public transportation through a Federal tax on gasoline.  The proposed bill would change that structure.

A spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Justin Harclerode, responded: "Republicans are not anti-transit, but we do recognize that the Highway Trust Fund is paid for by highways users, and cities and local governments must look at developing a similar user fee system for transit users." (full statement at end of post)

 “This [new] bill would keep the gasoline tax revenues for highways, but eliminate it for mass transit,” said New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.  “So we would no longer have a reliable source of funding, you’d have to go and beg Congress every year for appropriations and who knows how that would turn out,” Nadler added.

MTA Chairman Lhota also warned that the proposed bill could halt construction at some of New York City’s biggest transit upgrade projects, called mega-projects.  They include expansion of the Second Avenue subway line, and the East Side Access project that would connect Long Island Rail Road’s Main and Port Washington lines in Queens to a new LIRR terminal beneath the existing Grand Central Terminal.

Also at risk, said Lhota, is the Fulton Transit Center project.  That upgrade is working to build a new station at the corner of Fulton Street and Broadway, and improve connections to six existing Lower Manhattan subway stations, one of them at the World Trade Center site.

“If this bill goes forward, we’ll have to make some serious decisions because of the lack of funding, what will continue, what will move forward and at what pace,”  said Chairman Lhota.  “It will also affect track work and renovations,” he added.

House Republicans are expected to bring the legislation to the floor some time next week.  A separate Senate version of the bill is expected to be introduced later this week.

Statement from Justin Harclerode, spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:

The Republican five-year transportation bill provides guaranteed funding for transit.  

In terms of the bigger picture, the Highway Trust Fund is funded by a user fee of 18.4 cents per gallon of gas that all highway users pay at the pump.  Republicans are not anti-transit, but we do recognize that the Highway Trust Fund is paid for by highways users, and cities and local governments must look at developing a similar user fee system for transit users.

This bill gives more flexibility to states to fund their most critical transportation needs, and under this bill states can also use the funds authorized under the highway program for transit systems if they so choose.

Because of the struggling economy, changing driving patterns and more fuel efficient vehicles, the Highway Trust Fund is in repeated danger of running dry.  The Republican bill stabilizes the Trust Fund for the next five years, ensures states have the ability to fund their most critical transportation needs, and also guarantees transit funding.  Democrats have yet to propose a long-term funding solution for transportation, and the Senate’s proposal bankrupts the Trust Fund in less than two years.  This bill stabilizes transportation funding for five years and allows Congress the time to determine how best to address our transportation needs for the future.

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The Takeaway

House GOP Agrees to Payroll Tax Cut Extension

Friday, December 23, 2011

Responding to near-universal condemnation from the White House, The Wall Street Journal op-ed page, and senior members of their own party, the House GOP agreed Thursday to accept a temporary extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits the Senate approved last Saturday. House Republicans rejected an almost identical proposal on Tuesday. The stunning about face came after members of their own party criticized the House GOP for handing a political victory to President Obama. The deal will keep the payroll tax at 4.2 percent and expands the holiday to small businesses that have temporary caps on wages.

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The Takeaway

House Republicans Reject Payroll Tax Deal

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Republicans in the House of Representatives have rejected a deal that would have extended the payroll tax holiday and extended unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. Not passing the bill, which enjoyed overwhelming support from both parties in the Senate and the White House, will cause payroll taxes to go up by about $20 per paycheck for tens of millions of Americans. More than three million people stand to lose their unemployment benefits. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has called on the Senate, which adjourned Saturday, to return to negotiations, though Democrats are refusing to return to negotiations.

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Transportation Nation

Boehner to Dems: Either Cave, or No FAA Til September

Monday, August 01, 2011

(Washington, DC) House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Republicans have backed Democrats into a corner: Surrender Tuesday or the FAA stays shut for the rest of the summer.

House members left town Monday evening after passing their default-dodging debt limit deal. And they did it with an impasse between the two sides of the Capitol over a temporary Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill unresolved.

The Senate is still in town, set to vote on the debt deal Tuesday. That means the only options left on the FAA are either for the standoff to last until Congress returns in September, or for the Senate to cave. And the Senate says it isn't budging.

Earlier Monday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood traveled to New York's LaGuardia airport to unleash a blistering critique of the congressional stalemate, and to implore Congress not to go on vacation before the funding dispute was resolved.   LaHood says 4,000 FAA workers have been furloughed and 70,000 construction workers idled.  The FAA also said some airport inspectors are being required to go to work -- but can't be paid until the funding issue is settled.

To recap, the GOP-controlled House two weeks ago passed a temporary authorization extension for the FAA. But the bill included a tweak taking a bite out of federal subsidies for just a small handful of regional airports. Senate Democrats refused to swallow the bill, instead insisting on a "clean" extension. The FAA, and nearly 4,000 furloughed workers, have been sitting in the crossfire ever since.

In the background of all this is a partisan dispute over federal union rules. A longer-term FAA authorization bill is currently stalled in House-Senate talks because GOP lawmakers want to repeal an Obama Administration rule making it easier for workers at airlines and rail companies to organize. Senate Democrats, led by Rockefeller, have accused Republicans of using the short-term FAA bill as leverage over the union issue.

On Monday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-Va.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, tried to clear a pair of FAA bills through the Senate. One was the "clean" extension Democrats have been bucking for, the other was a new package of about $71 million dollars in regional airport subsidy cuts, far larger than the cuts Republicans are pushing.

But GOP senators objected to both measures, extending the deadlock past the time when House members skipped town.

Asked Monday evening  if there was a change of averting an FAA shutdown for the remainder of the summer, Boehner said, "That depends on the Senate."

A Rockefeller spokesman said Monday that it was unclear whether jammed Senate Democrats would accede to the House FAA bill and reopen the agency.

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The Takeaway

Washington: Votes on Debt Ceiling, Libya

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

As the House gets ready to vote on raising the debt ceiling, a delegation of Congressional Republicans will meet with President Obama on Wednesday with a list of their demands. Takeaway Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich has all the details. "Republicans are calling it a vote on the president's proposal on the debt limit, trying to tie it to the president's ankles," says Todd Zwillich. Meanwhile, there will also be a vote on the US role in Libya with Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) calling for a vote on a resolution to remove US personnel from Libya immediately.

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Transportation Nation

GOP: Energy Votes to Proceed Amid Obama's Big Moment

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

$4-a-gallon gas in Soho (photo by Kate Hinds)

(Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) The killing of Osama bin Laden has changed a lot in the world. But it won't change GOP plans to take aim at the president and his energy policy later this week.

That's because House leaders plan to go ahead with a series of votes designed to place blame on President Obama for high gas prices.

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Transportation Nation

House Extends Trust Fund, Awaiting a Fight

Thursday, March 03, 2011

(Washington, D.C.--Todd Zwillich) The House voted on Wednesday to extend the nation's surface transportation law, forestalling an inevitable debate on how to restructure highway funding in an age of deficits.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the Surface Transportation Act (link) until September 30, the end of the current fiscal year. The bill authorizes $580 billion over the next decade and about $53 billion this year. Most of that spending, about $42.5 billion, is to be funneled through the Highway Trust Fund.

The extension comes as Congress prepares for a broader debate over how to fund--or cut--federal highway and transit spending to help fill budget gaps. The Highway trust fund is financed with the 18.5-cent federal gas tax, which in recent years has failed to keep up with the demands of infrastructure building and upkeep. That's led lawmakers to dip into general government revenues to make up the difference, a move that is about to become a no-no under Republican leadership in the House.

The House's move comes a day after the release of a Government Accountability Office report that criticized widespread duplication and inefficiency at the Department of Transportation. It concludes DOT has become an uncoordinated and largely haphazard collection of programs. The Obama Administration agrees for the most part; it proposed a consolidation scheme for DOT in its Fiscal 2012 Budget.

All of this points to a tough transportation debate later this year, ranging from the future of the Highway Trust Fund and infrastructure spending to cutting programs--wasteful or otherwise--from DOT.

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Transportation Nation

Rail, Transpo Projects Face GOP Ax in Spending Bill

Monday, February 14, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Transportation projects are set to take a massive, immediate hit under a spending bill headed for the floor of the House of Representatives this week.

Republicans are aiming to cut nearly $15.5 billion from the section of the budget carrying transportation and housing funding. The money comes out of highway projects, infrastructure investments, and particularly high-speed rail.

The bill, what’s known in Washington as a continuing resolution, funds the government from March 4 through the end of September, 2011. Overall it contains around $63 billion in immediate cuts from current spending levels across the government. It’s all part of Republicans' pledge to reduce immediately reduce spending, and it could go even further by the time the bill is done being amended on the floor.

It’s also prelude to a broader budget fight hitting Washington this week. President Obama unveils his Fiscal 2012 budget plan Monday morning. That covers spending beginning October 1, 2011, and its big transportation highlight--$53 billion in high-speed rail funding—is already attracting Republican derision.

“We’re broke,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday morning. He repeated the refrain all week as Democrats, and even some Republicans, complained about the pain such immediate cuts could cause.

Before we look at specifics, keep in mind: After passing the House, this bill still needs to get through the Senate, where Democrats have a majority and lawmakers overall are considerably less enthusiastic about immediate discretionary spending cuts than are their House colleagues.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a conservative member of the Appropriations Committee and a spending hawk, acknowledged late last week that the aim of the deep-cutting House bill was two-fold: To fulfill Republicans campaign promises and to go into negotiations with the Senate “with as big a number as possible.”

A good chunk of that big number will come out of high-speed rail, if the House GOP gets its way. The continuing resolution hitting the House floor this week goes after $2.475 billion in funding already sent out to rail projects under stimulus and from other sources. It also seeks to hold back another $2.5 billion in high-speed rail funding yet to go out the door.

But rail isn’t alone. The bill cuts $600 million in general “national infrastructure investments," and takes another $600 million-plus from Federal Aviation Administration. Highways take a major hit as well, with $650 million slated for cuts to the Federal Highway Administration’s general fund and another $293 million in cuts to “surface transportation priorities”.

Democrats are predictably incensed at the GOP package. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused Republicans of taking a “meat axe” to the federal budget. House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), responded to the GOP proposals by backing a quick, and ultimately failed floor attempt to renew “Build America Bonds” for infrastructure funding.

“When you say they want to cut transportation, we know right away that’s a false economy,” Pelosi said to an organized labor crowd including members of the United Steel Workers on Thursday.

But the House’s cuts in general, and high-speed rail cuts in particular, are music to the ears of many Senate Republicans, at least publicly. Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the senior Republican on the Budget Committee said Thursday that high-speed rail projects were not efficient at stoking economic growth and should be killed.

The continuing resolution is set to hit the House floor Tuesday for at least two days of debate and amendments, possibly more. Conservative lawmakers are promising attempts to cut even more from federal spending right away. According to Boehner, if successful amendments lead to even deeper immediate cuts this week, “that’s fine.”

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Transportation Nation

House Republicans Zero in on High Speed Rail

Thursday, January 20, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation)   High-speed rail projects could be among the first to go if conservative spending hawks get their way in the new 112th Congress.

Republicans are sharpening their budget shears, looking to make good on promises to cut federal spending and reduce the overall size of government. And it looks like high-speed trains are high on the list.

A new House budget-cutting bill introduced Thursday by the conservative Republican Study Committee aims to return federal non-defense discretionary spending to 2006 levels. It cuts more than 100 programs, including the more than $10 billion in high-speed rail money funneled to cities and states in the economic stimulus bill.

Overall, the RSC bill looks to slash $2.3 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years.

“This bill represents the first step in the process, not the last. To achieve long-term fiscal stability, we must finish the race by making the tough decisions Congress has put off for far too long,” said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) head of the RSC’s budget task force.

The RSC represents the conservative wing of the Republican House conference, so consider that the “high water mark” in negotiations that ultimately will have to satisfy Republican leaders, the Democratic-controlled Senate, and President Obama.

But other Republicans with direct influence over transportation projects also have high speed rail in their sites. They include Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), the new chairman of the subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, who has made it clear that high speed rail funding is about to face new scrutiny.

The newly-empowered chairman has begun to get critical of the way in which the Obama Administration doled out high-speed rail grant money, suggesting politics, and not practicalities, guided many of its choices. Shuster told CQ Today that the Obama Administration isn’t responding to his requests for information on how they chose where to steer high-speed rail money.

A statement on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Web site says high-speed rail has “potential” in transportation infrastructure. But it also suggests Shuster’s panel is getting set to go after the Obama Administration in hearings.

“The Committee will provide needed direction for this program, working to ensure that taxpayers are not burdened with economically unviable and ineffective projects. The Committee will seek to incorporate private sector participation in financing, building, and operating rail projects,” it says.

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