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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

LaHood's Latest Web Video Has Gentler Words on House Transpo Bill

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ray LaHood is keeping up his usual drumbeat issues in his latest web video in his On The Go series.

LaHood used a question submitted from Facebook about transportation grant funding to comment on transportation funding bills under debate in Congress. Hard to imagine there wasn't a more direct question about the bills, but nonetheless LaHood couldn't keep from a short show of support for the Senate's version of the transportation bill, calling it "very good" and "truly bipartisan."

LaHood is notably diplomatic when referring to the House transportation bill, in fact, downright kind compared to his previously blunt language. He says "we are going to be working with the House to either pass the Senate bill" ... or ... he doesn't say or what. We're left wondering what he'd work with House GOP leaders to craft besides that.

The rest of the video offers a few hints on where the DOT is thinking ahead on safety.

"We're continuing to do research" on whether GPS distracts people from driving, he says. He points out the DOT has already suggested voluntary guidelines for carmakers that install built-in GPS systems. LaHood wants the devices programmed to disable the controls while the car is in motion. "We hope that they [the carmakers] will do that," was all he said on the likelihood of that kind of governor setting coming to be. No regulations are in the works.

Watch the full video here:

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Transportation Nation

House Republicans Officially Introduce Surface Transpo Extension

Thursday, March 22, 2012

This just in: House Republicans introduced a three-month extension to avoid a shutdown of transportation programs after March 31.

From the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure:

"In order to ensure continuity of current surface transportation programs while the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and House Republicans continue to work toward a responsible transportation bill that provides long-term certainty, reduces the size of government, eliminates earmarks, and is fully paid for, Chairman Mica, Chairman Duncan and Chairman Camp introduced a three-month extension of transportation programs today.  This legislation, the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 (H.R. 4239), will extend current programs through June 30, 2012."

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: GOP to Push 3-Month Transpo Bill Extension

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

House Republicans, still adrift on how to reauthorize national highway funding legislation, will now push a 3-month extension to avoid a shutdown of transportation programs after March 31.

The fact the GOP would move a temporary extension next week was confirmed yesterday . A statement from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) issued today specified it would be a 3-month bill.

“Tomorrow, I will introduce a short-term extension through June 30th to ensure continuity of current programs while I and House Republicans continue to work toward a responsible transportation bill that provides long-term certainty, reduces the size of government, eliminates earmarks, and is fully paid for. We continue to believe that linking energy and infrastructure is the responsible thing to do in order to meet our long-term needs,” the statement read.

Senate Democrats are busy talking tough while leaning on the House to instead take up the 2-year $109 billion bill the Senate passed with 74 votes last week. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined a group of Senate Democrats Wednesday to goad House Republicans to avoid the very thing Mica says they'll do.

"We're going to continue the drumbeat. No extension," LaHood said. He called an extension the "death knell" of the Highway Trust Fund and the jobs that rely on it. The highway bill has been temporarily reauthorized eight times since 2009.

The House GOP's decision to spurn the Senate bill, at least for now, leaves open the possibility of a standoff that could lead to a shutdown. Sen. Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, said Tuesday he was "not inclined" to approve a temporary extension in light of the Senate's broad bipartisan vote.

"I hope that we will force this issue" with the House, said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Asked in the same press conference whether Democrats would refuse to back a temporary Highway Bill extension, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Democratic leadership, would not say they would.

"We think it's a very bad idea," he said.

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Highway Bill Could Be Headed for a Standoff

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

People with a stake in the billions of dollars worth of highway funds and gas taxes may have breathed a temporary sigh of relief a few hours ago when Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica said the GOP would opt for a temporary extension next week.

Not so fast.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he's not interested in putting a temporary extension of the Highway bill on the Senate floor if the House passes one next week, given that the Senate passed a two-year, $109 billion version of its own last week with 74 votes.

The current Highway bill extension runs out March 31. That means the Senate can keep the program going by passing the House's temporary extension, which will likely include a motion to go to conference with the Senate.

"I'm not inclined to do that," Reid told reporters Tuesday.

If Reid sticks to his guns, that leaves Option Two: Force the House to swallow the Senate's two-year bill or, Option Three: Risk being held responsible for a shutdown reminiscent of last summer's Federal Aviation Administration shutdown fiasco.

Time is running short, and House Republicans have already said they won't try for a version of their 5-year bill before the Easter recess. "There's plenty of time for the House to pass our bill," a Senate Democratic leadership aid says.

The aide wouldn't go so far as to close down all possibilities of a temporary extension as House Republicans now want. But the tough talk has started, and along with it a game of chicken with a March 31 deadline.

"The House had their chance, and they blew it," the aide said.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich





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Transportation Nation

House GOP Opts for Short-Term Transpo Extension

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

House Republicans have decided to pursue a short-term extension rather than take up the Senate's recently-passed two-year Highway bill, The Hill newspaper reports.

The paper quotes House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) after remarks delivered at a rally for infrastructure investments near Capitol Hill. "The time and length of that extension will be determined in consultation with the leadership," Mica is quoted as saying.

The decision to go for an extension, the ninth since 2009, means House Republicans are not ready to capitulate to the Senate on its 2-year bill, even though it passed last week with a broadly bipartisan 74-22 vote. Republican leaders have been busy polling their members on the prospect of endorsing the Senate bill and avoiding a showdown. But Republicans, particularly conservatives, are unhappy with the Senate bill's price tag, its treatment of transit policy and other issues.



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Transportation Nation

Auto Bailout Becomes a Central Meme for Obama 2012 Campaign

Monday, March 19, 2012

Biden in Toledo March 15 (photo Obama Biden campaign)

A year ago and a half ago – October 2010 -- I was in Jackson Michigan, an hour's drive on a long flat plain due west of Detroit, in a county that is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.  The auto industry looms large in Jackson, as it does in much of Michigan.  Almost everyone seems to work in the industry or have family that does – or did.

One of the things I’d come to find out was how the auto bailout was playing in Jackson.  Even then, the White House had been laboring mightily to  argue the virtues of the bailout, sending out report after report about auto industry jobs that had been saved by the deal.

But it wasn’t selling.

That month, I met Linda Webb, who was working at Target. She practically spit teeth at the thought of the bailout. “I feel they should’ve gave the people the money to spend to keep the companies going,” she told me while pushing her grocery cart out of the local Walmart super market. “But they did it the opposite. They gave it to all the big people that didn’t need the money. If they handed me money like they handed them, I could’ve went and bought a car — it would have kept them in production.”

Tough. In the fall of 2010, saving a big company turns out to have stirred up a populist sentiment against that very thing.  The auto bailouts didn’t seem to be worth much electoral coin.

That shouldn’t have been surprising -- as the New York Times has reported, in early 2009, 3 out of 4 Americans didn’t think Washington should help the automakers.  Six in 10 opposed the bailouts once they happened.

But, as a Pew poll last month found, those numbers have practically reversed, with Americans saying the bailouts were mostly good for the economy, by a 56 to 37 percent margin.  The industry's now in the black, and -- most importantly -- people are going back to work.

This is hugely significant for the Obama Biden 2012 campaign in the key swing states of Michigan and Ohio, and they’ve seized upon it.    There isn’t a speech on the economy when President Barack Obama doesn’t invoke the bailout, and mention the 55 mpg targets cars will reach by next decade.  It’s become of meme for Obama.  An improved, energy-efficient car, for an improved energy-efficient economy.

This month, the campaign stepped it up even further.  On March 14, a press release landed in my inbox from the Obama Biden campaign with the headline “Strong growth in auto industry drive job creation across the state of Ohio.  New report illustrates the importance of the auto industry for middle class families.”    Since most of the reports on this have come from the White House, it was striking that this had now leaped to a purely campaign argument.

A day later, Biden himself took this show on the road. Sounding about as fired up as he’s been since 2008, and speaking to a crowd of enthused autoworkers, Biden stuck it to the Republicans. Referring to a now-infamous op-ed penned by Mitt Romney “Let Detroit go Bankrupt.” Biden said “What’s really bankrupt is the economic theories of Gingrich, Santorum and Romney,” adding: “We’re about promoting the private sector they’re about promoting the privileged sector.”

President Obama himself traveled to Michigan on the day of the Republican primary last month to fairly chortle over GOP woes -- both Romney and Santorum were having trouble jumping their opposition to the bailout.

Of 2009, the President said:  "The heartbeat of American manufacturing was flat-lining and we had to make a choice.  With the economy in complete free fall there were no private investors or companies out there willing to take a chance on the auto industry.  Nobody was lining up to give you guys loans.  Anyone in the financial sector can tell you that."

"So we could have kept giving billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars to automakers without demanding the real changes or accountability in return that were needed — that was one option. But that wouldn’t have solved anything in the long term.  Sooner or later we would have run out of money.  We could have just kicked the problem down the road.  The other option was to do absolutely nothing and let these companies fail.  And you will recall there were some politicians who said we should do that."

Then came the boos.

In 2008, Obama did so well in Michigan that John McCain gave up campaigning there.  In 2010, Republicans swept.  But in 2012, the bailout has proven so successful that it's become a mandatory talking point.

There are, as pundits like to note, plenty of caveats for Obama in Michigan and Ohio.  But one thing is clear.

The Obama White House bailed out a giant industry.  And in so doing, gave it self a populist argument that may prove one of its most powerful this year.

How the worm turns.


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Transportation Nation

Senate Passes Transportation Bill, 74-22

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Senators James Inhofe and Barbara Boxer (photo by EPWChairBoxer viaFlickr)

UPDATED Years late, and much smaller than once envisioned, the Senate has passed its version of a two-year $109 billion transportation bill by a wide, bi-partisan majority.

The move puts pressure on the House to approve a bill with only weeks to go before highway authorization runs out.

Lawmakers passed the two-year, $109 billion bill in a 74-22 bipartisan vote. All lawmakers who voted against the bill were Republicans, while 22 other GOP members voted 'yes'.

Passage came after weeks of wrangling on the Senate floor, largely over unrelated, and in many cases, politically-charged issues. But progress accelerated earlier this week when party leaders reached agreement on amendments to the bill. That cleared the way for Wednesday's bipartisan vote.

The vote increases pressure on House Republicans, who have been unable to rally support for their own version of the bill. A larger, 5-year, $260 billion package faltered last month when it became clear Republicans could not muster the votes to pass it. That's sent Republicans  back into negotiations to find an alternative. Current highway authorization, including the collection of the 18.4 cent per gallon gas tax, expires March 31.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that he would put the Senate bill, or one similar to it, up for a House vote if Republicans there did not soon reach agreement on how to pass their preferred 5-year version.

"We are all working together toward coalescing around a longer-term approach with needed reforms," Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steele, said Wednesday. "If we can’t get there, we may have to take up something like the Senate bill – but we’d prefer to take the responsible approach on this and get a longer term bill through the House.”

On Wednesday that agreement seemed no closer to being reached. And that raises a question of whether Republican leaders can find 218 votes to pass their own version of a highway bill, especially after a broad bipartisan Senate vote and a ticking legislative clock.

"They could get to 218 with our bill, and they should do it," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee and one of the bill's main sponsors. "You can't say it's too contentious because we've proven that it's not," she said.

Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the senior Republican sponsor of the bill, said the bill should appeal to GOP lawmakers because it streamlines several government programs and speeds environmental reviews of federally funded road projects.

"A conservative, in my opinion, should be a big spender in two areas: National defense and infrastructure," Inhofe told reporters.

The White House also praised the bill on Wednesday and put pressure on House Republicans to take up the bill when the body returns from a recess next week. "We are hopeful that the House will move swiftly and in similarly bipartisan," Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

Secretary Ray LaHood, an outspoken critic of the House bill, also spoke highly of the bill:  “Today's passage of the Senate transportation bill shows what Congress is capable of when they work together in a bipartisan manner.  Thanks to the leadership of Senators Boxer and Inhofe, working with their colleagues from the Banking, Commerce and Finance Committees, states are one step closer to putting Americans to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, transit systems and railways.

"Like President Obama's transportation proposal, this bill would relieve congestion on our roads, expand our transit and rails systems, and provide Americans with safe, affordable ways to reach their destinations when gas prices are high.  I hope that the House will follow their lead in passing a bipartisan transportation bill.”

The bill also received praise from transportation advocates who have been pushing for transit, biking, walking, and denser development.

Among other provisions, the bill restores a tax benefit for transit commuters to $240 a month, pre-tax.  That benefit had been slashed to $125 a month as of January after a failure to act to extend the bill.

“The Senate today has done the nation a great service in overcoming partisan gridlock to help Americans avoid literal gridlock," said Transportation for America Director James Corless.  "The bill that makes important policy strides even as it maintains funding levels necessary to preserve and expand our transportation infrastructure."

The bill extends the commuter benefit for transit users, makes feeral funds available for bike and pedestrian projects, and include emergency provisions to allow transit agencies to avoid service cuts and fare hikes.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter @toddzwillich




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Transportation Nation

Reversing a Radical Rewrite: Can Boehner Go Bipartisan?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rep. Bill Shuster at bat in congressional baseball game, perhaps pinch hitting for Mica. (House photo)

It’s hard to see clearly through the wreckage of the House transportation bill, but Speaker John Boehner’s actions last week—saying his chamber would work with legislation put forth by the Democratic Senate, “or something like it,” and asking Railroad Subcommittee Chairman Bill Shuster to lead the way—suggest the speaker might actually be looking to win minority votes on a bill he touted as a boon for long-term job growth.

The stunning turnaround came as Boehner at last admitted defeat on the unpopular five-year legislation he and transportation chairman John Mica put forth. Reminiscent of the FAA showdown, which left congressional leadership singed, the current transportation authorization expires March 31st, and has already been extended eight times since its expiration in 2009.

There was plenty not to like in the House bill, which would have paid for transportation in part with a controversial extension of oil and gas drilling and would have exiled transit projects from the highway trust fund, undoing a legacy left by Ronald Reagan. Conservatives complained that the price tag was too high, while moderate metropolitan Republicans chafed at the snub to mass transit funding. U.S. Secretary Ray LaHood, himself a former Republican congressman,  repeatedly trashed the bill as "lousy," "terrible," "the worst bill in decades" and "taking us back to the horse and buggy days."

Even had it passed the House, the Boehner-Mica bill’s severe provisions would have guaranteed a showdown with the Senate, almost surely leading to gridlock and brinkmanship. This just as independent voters are recoiling even further from what they see as congressional dysfunction and party extremism.

In the absence of consensus among Republicans, Boehner’s decision to shelve the bill seems apt. More telling, though, was his move to bench Mica and enlist Shuster. Congressional Quarterly, in initially reporting the decision, painted the hand-off as a rebuke of Mica, presumably for failing to gather and hold Republican support. The speaker’s office insists that wasn’t the intent, however, and indeed an alternate narrative seems plausible: Boehner is trying to reach across the aisle.

Going bipartisan would be so unusual for House Republicans, many activists fear it's a feign or a trap. But if Boenher wanted to use the week long recess to regroup and try to shore up Republican support, he could have easily stuck with Mica, who authored the bill to Boehner’s liking and who has repeatedly bent loyally to the prevailing conservative winds in the House. Instead, the speaker tapped Bill Shuster, a moderate on transportation who hails from Pennsylvania, a half-urban, half-rural state that relies fairly heavily on rail (and which produced the pro-transit Senator Rick Santorum).

Perhaps more importantly, Bill Shuster is a Shuster. His father, Bud Shuster, chaired the House transportation committee from 1995 until he resigned from Congress in 2001—largely because a party policy on term limitations for committee heads forced him to give up his beloved chairmanship. Bill took Bud’s seat in a special election later that year.

During the six-year Shuster chairmanship, as with the six-year reign of Don Young that followed, the task of transportation lawmaking was carried out with great bipartisan comity and, not unrelated, rampant earmarking.  The chairmen got their pork—Young his infamous Alaskan bridges to nowhere and the senior Shuster the irregularly numbered Interstate 99, now the “Bud Shuster Highway”—but so did their colleagues.

The last two long-term surface transportation reauthorizations happened under these men’s watch, and in those votes and several since the players who are today taking center stage showed their colors. When Bud Shuster sponsored TEA-21 in 1998, Mica voted for it, and Boehner voted against it. When Young sponsored SAFETEA-LU in 2005, Mica and Bill Shuster voted for it, and Boehner was one of only nine who voted against it. In 2008, when the new Democratic chairman Jim Oberstar pushed through Amtrak reauthorization, Mica and Bill Shuster voted for that too, and Boehner voted against it.

To his credit, Boehner has been consistent in pining for fundamental changes in transportation funding. In 2005, sore about earmarking in SAFETEA-LU and Ohio’s status as a “donor state” (one that pays more into the Highway Trust fund than it gets back from Washington), he argued that “in a perfect world, the states would keep the taxes they collect and the federal government would only get involved in those projects that are inherently federal.”

By contrast, Mica spoke in favor of SAFETEA-LU’s increased funding, though he wanted more donor/donee equity, then he boasted of the money he brought home. In 2007, after the I-35 bridge collapse, he was thinking big, meeting with President Bush to explain the urgency of a national infrastructure effort. Shortly after, he told the Texas Transportation Summit that the nation’s infrastructure needed dramatic overhaul, even mentioning high speed rail and inland waterways, two sectors that probably weren’t represented in Texas enough for this to be considered pandering.

As we know, Mica’s excitement about high speed rail waned after the 2010 midterm elections made him chairman. He cooperated with his party leadership’s efforts to constrain the budget and defeat President Obama’s infrastructure initiatives. But Bill Shuster hasn’t been quite so loyal. He has parted ways with Boehner and Mica when necessary to support transportation funding, and he has often prevailed. In 2007, Shuster voted against an unsuccessful Republican effort to defund Amtrak by half a billion dollars; the other two voted for it. In 2008, Shuster was the only one of the three to support Oberstar’s National Highway Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act, which passed the House 367-55.

Shuster’s rhetoric  has also been maverick -- for a Republican. In 2005, when both Boehner and Mica publicly complained about the federal redistribution of state tax revenues, Shuster actually defended the doner/donee designations, and called out Mica’s home state in the process.

"It has been the wise practice in surface transportation reauthorization to take into account that some regions are saddled with greater needs than others and need a larger rate of return to maintain our national transportation system,” he said on the floor of the House.

Pennsylvania “ranks third in the amount of through truck traffic that neither originates nor terminates in the State. Pennsylvania receives little benefit from such commerce traveling through our State, yet States such as Florida, which is able to get its goods to the large Northeastern markets, benefit, while we still suffer from the constant pounding and damage caused by this through traffic.” Apparently Shuster didn’t get the memo.

Given Shuster’s moderate views and votes, it’s hard to imagine that Boenher would swap Mica for Shuster if the plan was for Republicans to hold their ground and fight. At any rate, Democrats are taking the Pennsylvanian's new prominence as a good sign. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had kind, hopeful words for Shuster. “His father I knew very well,” he told The Hill. “If his son is anything like the dad, it will help get this bill done.”

And if the son is shopping legislation that’s a little more like his dad’s, that’ll probably help too.


(Hat tip to the essential Project Vote Smart)

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.


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Transportation Nation

Bloomberg Wants To Talk Transit With Cantor

Monday, March 12, 2012

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, March 2012 (photo: NYC Mayor's office)

Does New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg want money for the 9/11 museum?  Apparently, he wants money for transit, more.

At his daily press conference, Bloomberg was asked about an upcoming meeting with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor -- and if the Mayor would ask for federal funding for the 9/11 museum.  Bloomberg didn't address the 9/11 museum, instead riffing on the need for transit funding.  Here's the transcript:

Q: Are you going to ask Representative Cantor to support Federal funding for the 9/11 Museum?

Mayor: It’s a whole bunch of things. You know the biggest thing that we really, I think, could get done with him because it probably fits in with what the politics are on both sides of the aisle in Washington at the moment, I’d like to see if we can’t get some help in getting a tax credit for commuters. You know, the highway bill helps you if you drive, but it doesn’t help mass transit and we’re very dependent on that. But there are a whole bunch of issues that are nationwide issues that I- we really care about – immigration and those kinds of things.

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Transportation Nation

Watch Obama's Speech at Rolls Royce Factory Live

Friday, March 09, 2012

President Obama held his first news conference of the year on Super Tuesday as his Republican rivals battled for votes in 10 states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Our sister site is carry it here.

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Transportation Nation

Double the Fees on the Dulles Toll Road?

Friday, March 09, 2012

Dulles Rail Under Construction (Fairfax County Photo)

(Washington, DC -- Martin DiCaro, WAMU) A game of political chicken has started over the Dulles Metro Rail project. Virginia Republicans have passed legislation threatening to withdraw the state's $150 million contribution to Phase 2 of the project, and claims the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is discriminating against non-union workers. In WAMU's  weekly transportation segment, Martin Di Caro explains why the political dispute could end in a doubling of fees on the Dulles Toll Road.

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Transportation Nation

Boehner: We'll Work with Senate if GOP Balks on Highway Bill

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Speaker John Boehner (House Photo)

The Senate's transportation bill bill may be the last game in town.

House Republicans leaders have been struggling for weeks to drum up enough support in their own ranks to pass a 5-year bill. Now, faced with a ticking clock on an expiring law, they may be forced to align instead with a bipartisan alternative now on the Senate floor.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) acknowledged Thursday that the GOP's bill still doesn't have the votes it needs to come to the floor and pass. That's despite last-ditch pleas from Republican leaders this week, warning members that the bill might be their last chance to put a conservative stamp on a debate that must ultimately include the Senate and President Obama.

"At this point in time the plan is to bring up the Senate bill, or something like it," Boehner told reporters. He added that talks continue over the 5-year bill, priced originally at $260 billion. Boehner said a longer-term bill is one "most of our members want.'

But getting enough of them to agree to how to do it, and where to find the money to pay for it has proved another matter. And House Democrats have kept the effort at arm's length.

Meanwhile, the Senate began voting on amendments to its own 2-year, $109 billion bill Thursday, though none was directly related to transportation policy. The most high profile vote killed a GOP effort to force approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Boehner's comments "a big step forward" in getting final agreement on a bill.  Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) who handles political strategy and messaging for Senate Democrats, said Democrats and Republicans could reach a bipartisan deal on the bill and urged Republicans not to "muck it up."

The Senate is set to continue voting on transportation amendments next Tuesday.


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Transportation Nation

President Obama: Fuel Efficient Trucks Save $15K a Year

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

President Obama at Daimler Trucks in Mt. Holly, North Carolina (photo: John Adkisson/Getty Images News)

Continuing to push his energy agenda in the key swing state of North Carolina, President Obama Wednesday said more fuel efficient trucks will be able to save $15,000 a year -- and reduce oil consumption by more than 12 billion barrels.

Tell congress "we’re tired of hearing phony election-year promises that never come about," the President told a rowdy crowd. " What we need is a serious, sustained, all-of-the-above strategy for American-made energy, American-made efficiency, American innovation, American fuel-efficient trucks, American fuel-efficient cars.  We may not get there in one term --" President Obama said, before being interrupted with chants of  "Four more years!" -- "It's going to take us a whole to wean ourselves off the old and grab the new.  But we're going to meet this challenge because we are Americans!"

Here's the full transcript:



Daimler Truck Manufacturing Plant

Mount Holly, North Carolina

12:50 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, North Carolina! (Applause.) Hello, Mount Holly! (Applause.) Thank you, Juan, for that introduction. I did not know he was a preacher. (Laughter.) He must be at least a deacon. (Laughter.) I was hearing -- "Welll" -- (Laughter.) He was starting to get the spirit up here. I'm going to take Juan on the road to introduce me everywhere. (Laughter.) Can I hear an "amen"?



I want to thank Mark Hernandez, Ricky McDowell -- (applause) -- and Martin Daum for hosting us and being such great tour guides. Thank you so much, everybody. Give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)

We've got a few outstanding North Carolinians in the house. You've got your Governor, Bev Perdue, is here. (Applause.) Your mayors, Bryan Hough and Anthony Foxx are here. (Applause.) Two outstanding Congressmen, Mel Watt and Heath Shuler are here. (Applause.) Thank you all for being here.

It is good to be in North Carolina. Anthony Foxx pointed out that I decided to wear a tie that could be a Tar Heel -- (applause) -- but it's got a little Duke color in there, too.


THE PRESIDENT: I didn’t want to get in trouble with anybody, so I was hedging my bets. (Laughter.)

I always tell people I am one of the best advertisers for North Carolina. I love this state. (Applause.) Love this state. Everybody here is so nice, so welcoming. Even the folks who don't vote for me, they're nice to me. They usually wave five fingers. (Laughter.) So it's just a great pleasure.

And I just had a chance to see some of the folks who are doing the work here today. I couldn't be more impressed. Some people have been here -- like Juan -- 32 years, 25 years. Some folks have been here for four months, or six months, have just gotten hired. But everybody had such pride in their work.

And the Freighterline trucks that you’re making here at this plant run on natural gas, and that makes them quieter, it makes them better for the environment, it makes them cheaper to fill up than they would be with diesel. I hear you sold your 1,000th natural gas truck last November -– (applause) -- the first company to reach that milestone. And it was made right here in Mount Holly. (Applause.) And last year, this plant added more than 1,000 workers, hiring back a lot of folks who were laid off during the recession. (Applause.) That is something to be proud of.

Now, here at Daimler, you're not just building trucks. You're building better trucks.

AUDIENCE: That’s right.

THE PRESIDENT: You're building trucks that use less oil. And you know that’s especially important right now because most of you have probably filled up your gas tank a time or two in the last week, and you've seen how quickly the price of gas is going up. A lot of you may have to drive a distance to work. Higher gas prices are like a tax straight out of your paycheck.

And for companies that operate a whole fleet of trucks, the higher costs can make a big difference in terms of the profitability of the company.

Now, here's the thing, though -- this is not the first time we've seen gas prices spike. It's been happening for years. Every year, about this time, gas starts spiking up, and everybody starts wondering, how high is it going to go? And every year, politicians start talking when gas prices go up. They get out on the campaign trail -- and you and I both know there are no quick fixes to this problem -- but listening to them, you'd think there were.

As a country that has 2 percent of the world's oil reserves, but uses 20 percent of the world's oil -- I'm going to repeat that -- we've got 2 percent of the world oil reserves; we use 20 percent. What that means is, as much as we're doing to increase oil production, we're not going to be able to just drill our way out of the problem of high gas prices. Anybody who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or they aren’t telling you the truth.

Here is the truth. If we are going to control our energy future, then we’ve got to have an all-of-the-above strategy. We’ve got to develop every source of American energy -- not just oil and gas, but wind power and solar power, nuclear power, biofuels. We need to invest in the technology that will help us use less oil in our cars and our trucks, in our buildings, in our factories. That’s the only solution to the challenge. Because as we start using less, that lowers the demand, prices come down. It's pretty straightforward. That’s the only solution to this challenge.

And that’s the strategy that we’ve now been pursuing for the last three years. And I’m proud to say we’ve made progress.

Since I took office, America’s dependence on foreign oil has gone down every single year. In fact, in 2010, it went under 50 percent for the first time in 13 years.

You wouldn’t know it from listening to some of these folks out here -- (laughter) -- some of these folks -- (laughter) -- but a key part of our energy strategy has been to increase safe, responsible oil production here at home. Under my administration, America is producing more oil today than any time in the last eight years. Under my administration, we’ve quadrupled the number of operating oilrigs to a record high. We’ve got more oilrigs operating now than we’ve ever seen. We’ve opened up millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration. We’ve approved more than 400 drilling permits that follow new safety standards after we had that mess down in the Gulf.

We’re approving dozens of new pipelines. We just announced that we’ll do whatever we can to speed up construction of a pipeline in Oklahoma that’s going to relieve a bottleneck and get more oil to the Gulf -- to the refineries down there -- and that’s going to help create jobs, encourage more production.

So these are the facts on oil production. If somebody tells you we’re not producing enough oil, they just don’t know the facts.

But how much oil we produce here at home, because we only have 2 percent and we use 20, that’s not going to set the price of gas worldwide, or here in the United States. Oil is bought and sold on the world market. And the biggest thing that’s causing the price of oil to rise right now is instability in the Middle East. You guys have been hearing about what’s happening with Iran; there are other oil producers that are having problems. And so people have gotten uncertain. And when uncertainty increases, then sometimes you see speculation on Wall Street that drives up gas prices even more.

But here's the thing. Over the long term, the biggest reason oil prices will go up is there's just growing demand in countries like China and India and Brazil. There are a lot of people there. In 2010 alone, China added nearly 10 million cars on its roads. Think about that -- 2010, 10 million new cars. People in China, folks in India, folks in Brazil -- they're going to want cars, too, as their standard of living goes up, and that means more demand for oil, and that's going to kick up the price of oil worldwide. Those numbers are only going to get bigger over time.

So what does that mean for us? It means we can't just keep on relying on the old ways of doing business. We can't just rely on fossil fuels from the last century. We've got to continually develop new sources of energy.

And that’s why we've made investments that have nearly doubled the use of clean, renewable energies in this country. And thousands of Americans have jobs because of it. It also means we’ve got to develop the resources that we have that are untapped, like natural gas. We're developing a near hundred-year supply of natural gas -– and that's something that we expect could support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.

And that’s why we've worked with the private sector to develop a high-tech car battery that costs half as much as other batteries and can go up to 300 miles on a single charge. Think about that. That will save you some money at the pump. And that is why we are helping companies like this one right here and plants like this one right here to make more cars and trucks that use less oil.

When I ran for office, I went to Detroit and I gave a speech to automakers where I promised that I was going to raise fuel standards on our cars, so that they’d go further on a gallon of gas. I said we should do the same thing on trucks. I have to tell you, when I said it, I didn't get a lot of applause in the room, because there was a time when automakers were resisting higher fuel standards -- because change isn't easy. But you know what, after three decades of not doing anything, we got together with the oil companies, we got together with the unions, we got together with folks who usually do not see eye to eye, and we negotiated new fuel economy standards that are going to make sure our cars average nearly 55 miles per gallon by the middle of the next decade. That's nearly double what they get today -- nearly double. (Applause.)

Now, because of these new standards for cars and trucks, they're going to -- all going to be able to go further and use less fuel every year. And that means pretty soon you’ll be able to fill up your car every two weeks instead of every week -– and, over time, that saves you, a typical family, about $8,000 a year.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We like that.

THE PRESIDENT: You like that, don't you?

AUDIENCE: Yes! (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Eight thousand dollars -- that's no joke. We can reduce our oil consumption by more than 12 billion barrels. And thanks to the SuperTruck program that we’ve started with companies like this one, trucks will be able to save more than $15,000 in fuel costs every year. Think about that, $15,000.

It looks like somebody might have fainted up here. Have we got some of the EMS, somebody. Don’t worry about -- folks do this all the time in my meetings. (Laughter.) You’ve always got to eat before you stand for a long time. That’s a little tip. But they'll be okay. Just make sure that -- give them a little room. All right, everybody all right? Okay.

So these trucks can save $15,000 every year. I want people to think about what that means for businesses, what it means for consumers. It is real progress. And it's happening because of American workers and American know-how. It's happening because of you. It's happening because of you.

We’re also making it easier for big companies -- some of your customers, like UPS and FedEx -- to make the shift to fuel-efficient cars and trucks. We call it the National Clean Fleets Partnership. And since we announced it last year, the number of companies that are taking part in it has tripled. And that means more customers for your trucks. (Applause.) We're creating more customers for your trucks.

And I am proud to say that the federal government is leading by example. One thing the federal government has a lot of is cars and trucks. We got a lot of cars and we got a lot of trucks. And so what I did was I directed every department, every agency in the federal government, to make sure that by 2015, 100 percent of the vehicles we buy run on alternative fuels -- 100 percent. (Applause.)

So we’re one of the biggest customers in the world for cars and trucks and we want to set that bar high. We want to set a standard that says by 2015, 100 percent of cars, alternative fuels.

So we’re making progress, Mount Holly. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much natural gas, or flex-fuel or electric vehicles you have if there’s no place to charge them up or fill them up. So that’s why I’m announcing today a program that will put our communities on the cutting edge of what clean energy can do.

To cities and towns all across the country, what we’re going to say is, if you make a commitment to buy more advanced vehicles for your community -- whether they run on electricity or biofuels or natural gas -- we’ll help you cut through the red tape and build fueling stations nearby. (Applause.) And we’ll offer tax breaks to families that buy these cars, companies that buy alternative fuel trucks like the ones that are made right here at Mount Holly. (Applause.) So we’re going to give communities across the country more of an incentive to make the shift to more energy-efficient cars.

In fact, when I was up in New Hampshire, in Nashua, they had already converted all their dump trucks -- they were in a process because of this program -- they were converting it to natural gas-driven trucks.

This is something that we did in education -- we called it Race to the Top. We said we’ll put in more money but we want you to reform. We’re going to give you an incentive to do things in a different way. And if we do the same thing with clean energy, we can save consumers money and we can make sure the economy is more secure. So we’ve got to keep investing in American-made energy and we’ve got to keep investing in the vehicles that run on it. That’s where our future is.

And in order to continue this progress, we’re going to have to make a choice. We’ve got to decide where our priorities are as a country. And that’s up to all of you. And I’ll give you an example. Right now, $4 billion of your tax dollars goes straight to the oil industry every year -- $4 billion in subsidies that other companies don’t get. Now, keep in mind, these are some of the same companies that are making record profits every time you fill up your gas tank. We’re giving them extra billions of dollars on top of near-record profits that they’re already making. Anybody think that’s a good idea?


THE PRESIDENT: Me, neither. (Laughter.) It doesn’t make any sense. The American people have subsidized the oil industry long enough -- they don’t need the subsidies. It’s time to end that taxpayer giveaway to an industry that's never been more profitable, invest in clean energy that's never been more promising. (Applause.)

So I called on Congress, eliminate these subsidies right away. There’s no excuse to wait any longer.

AUDIENCE: That's right!

THE PRESIDENT: And we should put every member of Congress on record: They can stand up for the oil companies or they can stand up for the American people and this new energy future. (Applause.) We can place our bets on the fuel of the past, or we can place our bets on American know-how and American ingenuity and American workers like the ones here at Daimler. (Applause.) That’s the choice we face. That’s what’s at stake right now.

So, in between shifts, get on the phone or email or send a letter or tweet -- (laughter) -- your member of Congress; ask them where they stand on this -- because it will make a difference. And you’ll know where I stand on this. Let’s make sure our voices are heard. The next time you hear some politician trotting out some 3-point plan for $2 gas -- (laughter) -- you let them know, we know better.


THE PRESIDENT: Tell them we’re tired of hearing phony election-year promises that never come about. What we need is a serious, sustained, all-of-the-above strategy for American-made energy, American-made efficiency, American innovation, American fuel-efficient trucks, American fuel-efficient cars. We may not get there in one term --

AUDIENCE: Four more years! (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: It's going to take us a while to wean ourselves off of the old and grab the new. But we're going to meet this challenge because we are Americans. Our destiny is not written for us; it is written by us. We decide what that next chapter is going to be.


THE PRESIDENT: And I'm confident, working with folks like you, the outstanding working people of Mount Holly, of this plant, of North Carolina, of states all across the country, we can pull together, and remind everybody around the world just why it is that the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

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Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

Report: Boehner Making Last-Ditch Effort to Rally Republicans on Transpo Bill

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Hill is reporting that House Speaker John Boehner is making one last push to rally Republicans around his $260 billion transportation bill.

From the report:

Boehner bluntly warned lawmakers that if the House does not pass its own bill, it will be stuck with a two-year, $109 billion Senate bill, or “something that looks just like it,” according to a source in the room.

“You don’t like that? I don’t like it either. Why would any of us like it?” the Speaker told his members. “It means punting on the opportunity to pass an infrastructure bill that bears our stamp. It means giving up on the opportunity to make sure a bill is enacted that is responsibly paid for, that has full-scale reforms in it and, most importantly, that is linked to increased production of American energy.

“But right now, it’s the plan.”

More soon.

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Transportation Nation

Romney in the Driver's Seat?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Literally, in this week's New Yorker cover, Romney drives away with it, with Santorum in the doghouse.

Gas prices, the auto industry bail-out, domestic oil production...

This election is all about transportation.

Questions, anyone?

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Transportation Nation

Metro Won't Remove 'Go To Hell Barack' Subway Ad, Despite Congressman's Objections

Friday, March 02, 2012

(Washington, D.C. -- Sharon Rae, WAMU) Northern Virginia Rep. Jim Moran (D) thinks D.C. area Metro has gone too far permitting a contentious political ad to run at the Clarendon Metro station.

The ad, which is placed on one of the lit displays on the train platform, advertises a movie that targets President Obama and contains the phrase "Go to Hell, Barack." Moran fired off an angry letter to the transit agency asking for the immediate removal of the ad, which he calls "disrespectful."

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel says Metro advertising has been ruled by the courts as a public forum protected by the First Amendment. "We may not decline ads based on their political content," Stessel says.

But Moran says the ad, which advertises for the film "Sick & Sicker" about Obama's health care policies, are inappropriate. "It troubles me that Metro allows it to be shown," Moran told NBC Washington. "People of whatever political persuasion should not have to deal with ads that are clearly over the top."

Metro says it doesn't endorse any of the ads on the system, and the advertising does not reflect the position of the transit agency.

What do you think? Should the public nature of Metro make the messages free speech in a public forum? Or is there something about the nature of a subway station that should keep potentially offensive messages away from weary commuters?

Some riders clearly share Moran's views. ARL Now has a photo up on their site of the portion of the ad that says "Go to hell, Barack" with graffiti that responds "That's President Obama to you."

Here's Moran on NBC Washington (after an ad):

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Comments [9]

Transportation Nation

Tie-ups Mean No Transportation Votes Likely this Week

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Don't waste any time scanning C-SPAN for for congressional transportation votes this week. It's only Wednesday, and already the prospect of any floor action on transportation legislation in Congress is dead for this week.

That's the line from lawmakers and aides in both the House and Senate, as progress on highway bills in each chamber remain bogged down.

In the House, GOP leaders are still working on a scaled-back version of their five-year, $260 billion highway and infrastructure bill after Democrats balked and many Republicans revolted earlier this month. As reported elsewhere, discussions center around a shorter-term bill with a lower price tag. Republicans are tinkering with many provisions, including rejoining federal transit programs to funding from the Highway Trust Fund.

But those negotiations won't be anywhere close to done this week, lawmakers and aides said. "The leadership is working with the chairmen to try to bring a bill to the floor that can pass," Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, put it more succinctly: "What they're trying to do is find the votes," he said.

Meanwhile, while a two-year, $190 billion bill is pending on the Senate floor, leaders there have still not agreed to the list of amendments needed to let debate proceed. Republicans are insisting on dealing with several other non-transportation-related votes first. They include an amendment to allow broad religious exemptions to new Obama Administration rules requiring insurance coverage for contraception and another taking foreign aid money away from Egypt to punish that country for its crackdown on US non-profit organizations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he expects a vote on the contraception amendment to take place Thursday, with others to follow. But no transportation-related amendments are likely to come up for the remainder of the week, Senate aides said.

The current Highway Bill's authorization expires at the end of March, and the slow pace of progress in both chambers is putting a new authorization in serious doubt. The House is session next week but out of session the week after. Assuming Republican leaders come up with a workable bill, that would leave just two weeks to pass it and reconcile it with a Senate version. And THAT'S assuming the Senate completes its glacial process and list of amendment votes that is already dozens of votes long.

Talk of yet another temporary Highway Bill extension, possibly 18 months in length, is growing on Capitol Hill.


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Transportation Nation

As GOP Struggles in Michigan, Obama Chortles -- Says Fuel Efficient Cars Will Save $8000

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

President Obama (White House photo)

President Barack Obama all but danced on his opponents graves today, choosing the day the GOP battles it out in Michigan to address American autoworkers.  Those opponents -- both of whom opposed the auto bailout -- haven't made things better for themselves by citing the number cars they own (Romney--four, including two Cadillacs), his friends among Nascar owners (Romney) and how gas prices caused the recession (Santorum)

President Obama was particularly gleeful about all the money his new mileage standards will save -- $8000 "over time," he says.

After three decades of inaction, we’re gradually putting in place the toughest fuel economy standards in history for our cars and pickups.  That means the cars you build will average nearly 55 miles per gallon by the middle of the next decade -- almost double what they get today.  (Applause.)  That means folks, every time they fill up, they're going to be saving money.  They'll have to fill up every two weeks instead of every week.  That saves the typical family more than $8,000 at the pump over time. That means we’ll cut our oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day.  That means we have to import less oil while we're selling more cars all around the world.

Here's the full transcript.

THE PRESIDENT:  How's it going, UAW?  (Applause.)  It is good to be with some autoworkers today!  (Applause.)  All right. Everybody have a seat, get comfortable.  Go ahead and get comfortable.  I'm going to talk for a little bit.  (Applause.) 

First of all, I want to say thank you to one of the finest leaders that we have in labor -- Bob King.  Give it up for Bob.  (Applause.)  I want to thank the International Executive Board and all of you for having me here today.  It is a great honor.  I brought along somebody who is proving to be one of the finest Secretaries of Transportation in our history -- Ray LaHood is in the house.  Give Ray a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  


It is always an honor to spend time with folks who represent the working men and women of America.  (Applause.)  It’s unions like yours that fought for jobs and opportunity for generations of American workers.  It’s unions like yours that helped build the arsenal of democracy that defeated fascism and won World War II.  It's unions like yours that forged the American middle class -- that great engine of prosperity, the greatest that the world has ever known.


So you guys helped to write the American story.  And today, you’re busy writing a proud new chapter.  You are reminding us that no matter how tough times get, Americans are tougher.  (Applause.)  No matter how many punches we take, we don’t give up.  We get up.  We fight back.  We move forward.  We come out the other side stronger than before.  That's what you've shown us.  (Applause.)  You're showing us what’s possible in America.  So I’m here to tell you one thing today:  You make me proud.  (Applause.)  You make me proud.


Take a minute and think about what you and the workers and the families that you represent have fought through.  A few years ago, nearly one in five autoworkers were handed a pink slip -- one in five.  Four hundred thousand jobs across this industry vanished the year before I took office.  And then as the financial crisis hit with its full force, America faced a hard and once unimaginable reality, that two of the Big 3 automakers  -- GM and Chrysler -- were on the brink of liquidation.


     The heartbeat of American manufacturing was flat-lining and we had to make a choice.  With the economy in complete free fall there were no private investors or companies out there willing to take a chance on the auto industry.  Nobody was lining up to give you guys loans.  Anyone in the financial sector can tell you that.


     So we could have kept giving billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars to automakers without demanding the real changes or accountability in return that were needed -- that was one option. But that wouldn’t have solved anything in the long term.  Sooner or later we would have run out of money.  We could have just kicked the problem down the road.  The other option was to do absolutely nothing and let these companies fail.  And you will recall there were some politicians who said we should do that.


AUDIENCE:  Booo --


THE PRESIDENT:  Some even said we should "let Detroit go bankrupt."


AUDIENCE:  Booo --


THE PRESIDENT:  You remember that?  (Applause.)  You know.  (Laughter.)  Think about what that choice would have meant for this country, if we had turned our backs on you, if America had thrown in the towel, if GM and Chrysler had gone under.  The suppliers, the distributors that get their business from these companies, they would have died off.  Then even Ford could have gone down as well.  Production shut down.  Factories shuttered.  Once-proud companies chopped up and sold off for scraps.  And all of you, the men and women who built these companies with your own hands, would have been hung out to dry.


     More than one million Americans across the country would have lost their jobs in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  In communities across the Midwest, it would have been another Great Depression.  And then think about all the people who depend on you.  Not just your families, but the schoolteachers, the small business owners, the server in the diner who knows your order, the bartender who’s waiting for you to get off.  (Laughter.)  That’s right.  (Applause.)  Their livelihoods were at stake as well. 


And you know what was else at stake?  How many of you who’ve worked the assembly line had a father or a grandfather or a mother who worked on that same line?  (Applause.)  How many of you have sons and daughters who said, you know, Mom, Dad, I'd like to work at the plant, too?  (Applause.) 


These jobs are worth more than just a paycheck.  They’re a source of pride.  They’re a ticket to a middle-class life that make it possible for you to own a home and raise kids and maybe send them -- yes -- to college.  (Applause.)  Give you a chance to retire with some dignity and some respect.  These companies are worth more than just the cars they build.  They’re a symbol of American innovation and know-how.  They're the source of our manufacturing might.  If that’s not worth fighting for, what's worth fighting for?  (Applause.)


So, no, we were not going to take a knee and do nothing.  We were not going to give up on your jobs and your families and your communities.  So in exchange for help, we demanded responsibility.  We said to the auto industry, you're going to have to truly change, not just pretend like you're changing.  And thanks to outstanding leadership like Bob King, we were able to get labor and management to settle their differences.  (Applause.) 


We got the industry to retool and restructure, and everybody involved made sacrifices.  Everybody had some skin in the game.  And it wasn’t popular.  And it wasn’t what I ran for President to do.  That wasn’t originally what I thought I was going to be doing as President.  (Laughter.)  But you know what, I did run to make the tough calls and do the right things -- no matter what the politics were.  (Applause.)


And I want you to know, you know why I knew this rescue would succeed? 


AUDIENCE MEMBER:  How did you do it?  (Laughter.) 


THE PRESIDENT:  You want to know?  It wasn’t because of anything the government did.  It wasn’t just because of anything management did.  It was because I believed in you.  I placed my bet on the American worker.  (Applause.)  And I’ll make that bet any day of the week.  (Applause.) 


And now, three years later -- three years later, that bet is paying off -- not just paying off for you, it’s paying off for America.  Three years later, the American auto industry is back. (Applause.)  GM is back on top as the number-one automaker in the world  -- (applause) -- highest profits in its 100-year history. Chrysler is growing faster in America than any other car company. (Applause.)  Ford is investing billions in American plants, American factories -- plans to bring thousands of jobs back to America.  (Applause.) 


All told, the entire industry has added more than 200,000 new jobs over the past two and a half years -- 200,000 new jobs. And here’s the best part -- you’re not just building cars again; you’re building better cars.  (Applause.) 


After three decades of inaction, we’re gradually putting in place the toughest fuel economy standards in history for our cars and pickups.  That means the cars you build will average nearly 55 miles per gallon by the middle of the next decade -- almost double what they get today.  (Applause.)  That means folks, every time they fill up, they're going to be saving money.  They'll have to fill up every two weeks instead of every week.  That saves the typical family more than $8,000 at the pump over time. That means we’ll cut our oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day.  That means we have to import less oil while we're selling more cars all around the world.  (Applause.) 


Thanks to the bipartisan trade agreement I signed into law  -- with you in mind, working with you -- there will soon be new cars in the streets of South Korea imported from Detroit and from Toledo and from Chicago.  (Applause.) 


And today -- I talked about this at the State of the Union, we are doing it today -- I am creating a Trade Enforcement Unit that will bring the full resources of the federal government to bear on investigations, and we're going to counter any unfair trading practices around the world, including by countries like China.  (Applause.)  America has the best workers in the world.  When the playing field is level, nobody will beat us.  And we're going to make sure that playing field is level.  (Applause.)


Because America always wins when the playing field is level. And because everyone came together and worked together, the most high-tech, fuel-efficient, good-looking cars in the world are once again designed and engineered and forged and built -- not in Europe, not in Asia -- right here in the United States of America.  (Applause.)


I’ve seen it myself.  I’ve seen it myself.  I've seen it at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Plant in Detroit, where a new shift of more than 1,000 workers came on two years ago, another 1,000 slated to come on next year.  I’ve seen it in my hometown at Ford’s Chicago Assembly -- (applause) -- where workers are building a new Explorer and selling it to dozens of countries around the world. 


AUDIENCE MEMBER:  I'm buying one, too.


THE PRESIDENT:  There you go.  (Laughter.) 


I’ve seen it at GM’s Lordstown plant in Ohio -- (applause)  -- where workers got their jobs back to build the Chevy Cobalt, and at GM’s Hamtramck plant in Detroit -- (applause) -- where I got to get inside a brand-new Chevy Volt fresh off the line -- even though Secret Service wouldn’t let me drive it.  (Laughter.) But I liked sitting in it.  (Laughter.)  It was nice.  I'll bet it drives real good.  (Laughter.)  And five years from now when I’m not President anymore, I’ll buy one and drive it myself.  (Applause.)  Yes, that's right.


AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!


THE PRESIDENT:  I know our bet was a good one because I had seen it pay off firsthand.  But here’s the thing.  You don't have to take my word for it.  Ask the Chrysler workers near Kokomo -- (applause) -- who were brought on to make sure the newest high-tech transmissions and fuel-efficient engines are made in America.  Or ask the GM workers in Spring Hill, Tennessee, whose jobs were saved from being sent abroad.  (Applause.)  Ask the Ford workers in Kansas City coming on to make the F-150 -- America’s best-selling truck, a more fuel-efficient truck.  (Applause.)  And you ask all the suppliers who are expanding and hiring, and the communities that rely on them, if America’s investment in you was a good bet.  They’ll tell you the right answer.  


And who knows, maybe the naysayers would finally come around and say that standing by America's workers was the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  Because, I've got to admit, it's been funny to watch some of these folks completely try to rewrite history now that you're back on your feet.  (Applause.)  The same folks who said, if we went forward with our plan to rescue Detroit, "you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye."  Now they're saying, we were right all along.  (Laughter.) 


Or you've got folks saying, well, the real problem is -- what we really disagreed with was the workers, they all made out like bandits -- that saving the auto industry was just about paying back the unions.  Really?  (Laughter.)  I mean, even by the standards of this town, that’s a load of you know what.  (Laughter.) 


About 700,000 retirees had to make sacrifices on their health care benefits that they had earned.  A lot of you saw hours reduced, or pay or wages scaled back.  You gave up some of your rights as workers.  Promises were made to you over the years that you gave up for the sake and survival of this industry -- its workers, their families.  You want to talk about sacrifice?  You made sacrifices.  (Applause.)  This wasn't an easy thing to do. 


Let me tell you, I keep on hearing these same folks talk about values all the time.  You want to talk about values?  Hard work -- that’s a value.  (Applause.)  Looking out for one another -- that’s a value.  The idea that we're all in it together, and I'm my brother's keeper and sister's keeper -- that’s a value.  (Applause.) 


They're out there talking about you like you're some special interest that needs to be beaten down.  Since when are hardworking men and women who are putting in a hard day's work every day -- since when are they special interests?  Since when is the idea that we look out for one another a bad thing? 


I remember my old friend, Ted Kennedy -- he used to say, what is it about working men and women they find so offensive?  (Laughter.)  This notion that we should have let the auto industry die, that we should pursue anti-worker policies in the hopes that unions like yours will buckle and unravel -– that’s part of that same old "you are on your own" philosophy that says we should just leave everybody to fend for themselves; let the most powerful do whatever they please.  They think the best way to boost the economy is to roll back the reforms we put into place to prevent another crisis, to let Wall Street write the rules again. 


They think the best way to help families afford health care is to roll back the reforms we passed that’s already lowering costs for millions of Americans.  (Applause.)  They want to go back to the days when insurance companies could deny your coverage or jack up your rates whenever and however they pleased. They think we should keep cutting taxes for those at the very top, for people like me, even though we don’t need it, just so they can keep paying lower tax rates than their secretaries. 


Well, let me tell you something.  Not to put too fine a point on it -- they’re wrong.  (Laughter.)  They are wrong.  (Applause.)  That’s the philosophy that got us into this mess.  We can’t afford to go back to it.  Not now. 


We’ve got a lot of work to do.  We’ve got a long way to go before everybody who wants a good job can get a good job.  We’ve got a long way to go before middle-class Americans fully regain that sense of security that’s been slipping away since long before this recession hit.  But you know what, we’ve got something to show -- all of you show what’s possible when we pull together.


Over the last two years, our businesses have added about 3.7 million new jobs.  Manufacturing is coming back for the first time since the 1990s.  Companies are bringing jobs back from overseas.  (Applause.)  The economy is getting stronger.  The recovery is speeding up.  Now is the time to keep our foot on the gas, not put on the brakes.  And I’m not going to settle

for a country where just a few do really well and everybody else is struggling to get by.  (Applause.) 


We’re fighting for an economy where everybody gets a fair shot, where everybody does their fair share, where everybody plays by the same set of rules.  We’re not going to go back to an economy that’s all about outsourcing and bad debt and phony profits.  We’re fighting for an economy that’s built to last, that’s built on things like education and energy and manufacturing.  Making things, not just buying things -- making things that the rest of the world wants to buy.  And restoring the values that made this country great:  hard work and fair play, the chance to make it if you really try, the responsibility to reach back and help somebody else make it, too -- not just you.  That’s who we are.  That’s what we believe in.   (Applause.)


     I was telling you I visited Chrysler’s Jefferson North Plant in Detroit about a year and a half ago.  Now, the day I visited, some of the employees had won the lottery.  Not kidding.  They had won the lottery.  Now, you might think that after that they’d all be kicking back and retiring.  (Laughter.)  And no one would fault them for that.  Building cars is tough work.  But that’s not what they did.  The guy who bought --


     AUDIENCE MEMBER:  What did they do?


     THE PRESIDENT:  Funny you ask.  (Laughter.)  The guy who bought the winning ticket, he was a proud UAW member who worked on the line.  So he used some of his winnings to buy his wife the car that he builds because he’s really proud of his work.  (Applause.)  Then he bought brand new American flags for his hometown because he’s proud of his country.  (Applause.)  And he and the other winners are still clocking in at that plant today, because they’re proud of the part they and their coworkers play in America’s comeback.


See, that’s what America is about.  America is not just looking out for yourself.  It’s not just about greed.  It’s not just about trying to climb to the very top and keep everybody else down.  When our assembly lines grind to a halt, we work together and we get them going again.  When somebody else falters, we try to give them a hand up, because we know we’re all in it together.


I got my start standing with working folks who’d lost their jobs, folks who had lost their hope because the steel plants had closed down.  I didn’t like the idea that they didn’t have anybody fighting for them.  The same reason I got into this business is the same reason I’m here today.  I’m driven by that same belief that everybody -- everybody -- should deserve a chance.  (Applause.) 


So I promise you this:  As long as you’ve got an ounce of fight left in you, I’ll have a ton of fight left in me.  (Applause.)  We’re going to keep on fighting to make our economy stronger; to put our friends and neighbors back to work faster; to give our children even more opportunity; to make sure that the United States of America remains the greatest nation on Earth.   (Applause.)


Thank you, UAW.  I love you.  God bless you.  God bless the work you do.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)




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Transportation Nation

Will High Gas Prices Hurt Obama's Reelection Chances?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Gas Prices, February 2012

(New York, NY -- Stephen Reader, It's a Free With gas prices on the rise—over $5/gallon in some places—Republican presidential candidates hammered the Obama administration this week for over-regulating domestic energy production.

In a new 30-minute (yes, minute) Super Tuesday super-ad, Newt Gingrich blamed the President's policies for the recent spike in gas prices, and complained that reliance on Middle East oil has left American markets open to shudders in the wake of the Arab Spring.

"This is the most expensive gas on average we've ever had," Gingrich opined.

We're not sure where the former Speaker is getting his numbers. The Daily Fuel Gauge Report from AAA shows the highest recorded average as $4.114/gallon, which was in the summer of 2008. The current national average is almost 50 cents less at $3.64/gallon.

Still, such a high number is not good news for Obama. Whether or not rising gas prices are the President's fault, incumbent parties tend to fare poorly in elections when consumers feel like they're paying an arm and a leg at the pump.

But that doesn't mean incumbent parties fare poorly because of high gas prices, per se. Over at the New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog, Nate Silver has found that "higher gas prices mean a poorer performance for the incumbent party," but the argument that there's a direct cause-effect relationship between the two was "fairly weak statistically."

Higher gas prices are important to the extent that they affect things like G.D.P., inflation and unemployment. But there isn’t evidence that they matter above and beyond that...if the economy is growing at 4 or 5 percent in 2012, unemployment has declined significantly, and inflation remains tame, gas prices are unlikely to have much effect on Mr. Obama's prospects.

Silver wrote these words about a year ago. Today, we know that the economy isn't growing as much as 4 or 5 percent (at least not yet); while unemployment may be declining, most Americans probably wouldn't call the changes "significant."

But Obama can take some comfort in the fact that at least the picture doesn't seem to be getting worse. The economy is still growing: Nate Silver points out that in 1980, when Jimmy Carter lost re-election, gas was at an inflation-adjusted $3.37/gallon and GDP was shrinking at a rate of 3.7 percent. In 2008, when John McCain failed to keep Republican control of the White House and gas was $3.81/gallon, GDP was shrinking at a rate of 2.3 percent.

Obama also has some ammunition against the kind of charges leveled by Newt. Read the rest of the post here.

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