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Transportation Nation

Analysis: Picking Ryan Means Picking Fight on Transportation

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

 

Congressman Paul Ryan speaks at a Romney Rally in Manassas, Virginia, Sunday. (Photo by Flickr user monkeyz_uncle)

“Sharp” is a word you may have heard a lot these past few days. It’s a favorite descriptor for Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Congressman who became Mitt Romney’s running mate as of Saturday morning. Sharp, say friends and foes alike, are Ryan’s appearance, his mind, his criticisms of President Barack Obama, the spending reductions he favors—and now, somewhat suddenly, the contrast between the policies embodied by the presumptive Republican challengers and those of the incumbent Democrats. It is a perceived sharpness that itself stands in contrast, of course, to Mitt Romney’s pre-Ryan candidacy, which many commentators found too muddled and many conservatives found too moderate.

Take transportation, for instance. Romney, as this blog observed, spoke and behaved as a metro-friendly moderate when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s transportation budgets were modally balanced, with an emphasis on fixing what already existed, and he worked hard to create a new state agency to encourage smart growth development and sustainability. A candidate who still believed in those principles might not have many sharp things to say about transportation in a debate with President Barack Obama.

The Obama Administration subscribes to the belief, by no means exclusive to liberals, that infrastructure spending is crucial to creating jobs and keeping America competitive. Judging from Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint, the newly tapped V.P. candidate takes issue not with just the dollar figures required to test Obama's idea, but the philosophy itself.

As high-speed rail advocates and transit-friendly bloggers are already aware, Ryan will bring plenty of sharp contrast to the presidential campaign. Yonah Freemark of Transport Politic put it neatly:

“Mr. Ryan voted against every piece of transportation legislation proposed by Democrats when they controlled the lower chamber between 2007 and early 2010, with the exception of a bill subsidizing the automobile industry to the tune of $14 billion in loans in December 2008. This record included a vote against moving $8 billion into the highway trust fund in July 2008 (the overall vote was 387 to 37), a bill that was necessary to keep transportation funding at existing levels of investment. Meanwhile, he voted for a failed amendment that would have significantly cut back funding for Amtrak and voted against a widely popular bill that would expand grants for public transportation projects. He did vote in favor of the most recent transportation bill extension.”

These votes of Ryan's weren’t a matter of toeing the party line, either. Republican House Transportation Chairman John Mica, for instance, took the other side on every one of these votes except the failed amendment cutting funding for Amtrak.

But no budget hawk is perfect. Ryan did show a certain weakness for transportation dollars back when George W. Bush was President. In July of 2005, he joined the 412-8 majority in voting for the infamously pork-laden, “bridge-to-nowhere”-building reauthorization bill SAFETEA-LU. And then he sent out a press release listing all of the earmarks he had won for his district, including $7.2 million for the widening of I-94 between the Illinois state line and Milwaukee, $3.2 million for a bypass around Burlington, and $2.4 million for work on I-43 in Rock County. Small authorizations were also secured for preliminary engineering work on the Kenosha streetcar expansion project and Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail. Ryan’s press release boasted that the state of Wisconsin was still a donee state, getting back $1.06 for every federal tax dollar, up from $1.02 the previous authorization. But “there’s no gas tax increase, and it draws on the Highway Trust Fund – not general revenues – for transportation spending, and it’s fair for Wisconsin gas tax payers.”

Five years later, as we know, it became unfashionable, gauche even, to be seen indulging in earmarks and other federal largess. In November 2010, that Tea Party autumn, Republican Scott Walker won the governorship of Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin after a campaign that made a major issue of the Milwaukee-to-Madison high speed rail “boondoggle.” In a television commercial, Walker said he’d rather use the $810 million to fix Wisconsin’s roads and bridges. But the money wasn’t fungible. As Walker and Florida Governor Rick Scott soon had to admit, turning down the money only meant re-gifting it to high speed rail projects in other, bluer, more grateful states.

Paul Ryan tried to change that. Just a few days after Walker’s election, he and two fellow Wisconsin Republicans co-sponsored legislation in the House to order returned high-speed rail money deposited into the general fund for the purposes of deficit reduction. The bill would have changed the political dynamic of federal high-speed rail funding had it passed, placing new pressure on any governor who accepted those grants. For whatever reason, the bill never left committee.

When Ryan became Chairman of the House Budget Committee, in 2011, he put forth a 2012 budget that, reflecting Ryan’s commitment not to raise the gas tax or draw from the general fund, reduced transportation spending from its 2011 level of $95 billion gradually down to $66 billion in 2015. That was at a time when the Obama Administration was proposing a six-year infrastructure outlay of $476 billion “to modernize the country’s transportation infrastructure, and pave the way for long-term economic growth.”

But there’s the rub. Chairman Ryan refutes that premise. In his budget, transportation spending is not economic investment. To quote the 2013 budget:

In the first two years of the Obama administration, funding for the Department of Transportation grew by 24 percent–and that doesn’t count the stimulus spike, which nearly doubled transportation spending in one year. The mechanisms of federal highway and transit spending have become distorted, leading to imprudent, irresponsible, and often downright wasteful spending. Further, however worthy some highway projects might be, their capacity as job creators has been vastly oversold, as demonstrated by the extravagant but unfulfilled promises that accompanied the 2009 stimulus bill, particularly with regard to high-speed rail.

The document goes on to say that the country’s fiscal challenges make “long-term subsidization infeasible,” and that “high-speed rail and other new intercity rail projects should be pursued only if they can be established as self-supporting commercial services.” (It’s unclear whether Ryan believes that new highways should also be built as self-supporting commercial services. But he should give Rick Perry a call before saying so publicly.)

With Ryan now on the Republican ticket, one can see more clearly the (sharper) contours of the general election debate, and infrastructure spending might just have a starring role. It’s there in the debate over the federal budget, and the federal funding role. It’s at the crux of the hullabaloo over “You didn’t build that” (a government theory Elizabeth Warren articulated better). And it will be there when Paul Ryan debates Amtrak Joe.

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

Sandy Adams Takes on "Rock of Gibraltar" Mica in Battle for US House Seat

Friday, August 10, 2012

John Mica and supporters  (photo by Matthew Peddie)

The chair of the House Transportation Committee finds himself in a scrappy fight for re-election, but he's standing his ground and turning to mobility metaphors to express his confidence: "I think I have some life left on the odometer," he said, touting the benefits of his seniority in the house. Meanwhile, his opponent, Sandy Adams, is pointedly using his Washington experience against him.

Mica's U.S. Congressional District 7 used to stretch from his home in Winter Park, metro Orlando to Ponte Vedra, a seaside town 130 miles north, not far from Jacksonville.  Redistricting shifted the boundaries closer to Orlando, and District 7 now centers on Seminole County, just north of Orlando's exurbs.  Neighboring District 24 -- currently represented by Sandy Adams -- moved South, leaving Adams to scrap with Mica in the Republican primary.

As the influential chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, Mica has been in Congress nearly 20 years, long enough for people to know who he is. Under siege from his opponent Sandy Adams, he’s flying his conservative colors and highlighting his record as a whistle blower on wasteful spending.

“You get to election year, and people want to know what you’ve done, and what you stand for, and I think I’ve got a very strong record of cutting waste, government bureaucracy and also of providing leadership,” says Mica.

But Adams says he's exactly the kind of insider politician voters don't want.

Her campaign is running an ad that labels Mica "Obama's best cheerleader", citing his support for SunRail, Central Florida's 62 mile long commuter rail line, which the ad brands a "boondoggle".

Adams also criticized Mica over a highway tolling provision in the recently passed highway funding  bill.

"Lexus lanes" are a talking point in the District 7 primary (photo by Matthew Peddie)

"It was his bill, he put the tolls on I-4 after telling people he would not," says Adams. "That’s a career politician.

"That's total political malarkey," says Mica. He says the bill preserves free lanes and stipulates if new toll lanes are built, “then you have to use the money for the construction or to reduce indebtedness, which would reduce or eliminate the tolls."

And Mica says he's no cheerleader for the Obama administration.

"It's totally absurd, taken out of context," says Mica. "I am the best cheerleader in Congress for transportation and getting people working."

"I was able to defeat Harry Reid and get a transportation bill done that the Democrats couldn't do, an FAA bill that cut Harry Reid's $3,720 airline ticket subsidies,  so I'm not the best friend of either Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama."

After nearly a decade in Tallahassee as a Florida state representative, Adams is no political newcomer, but she’s staking her claim as a cost cutting outsider.

“I am not a career politician," says  Adams. " I am, and remain, a citizen legislator.”

She says the choice is clear for voters on August 14th in the Republican primary. "They have a choice between a 20-year career Washington politician, or someone that they sent less than two years ago to fix the mess he helped create."

"I am not a career politician" says Sandy Adams

Adams defeated a Democrat in 2010, but this time she’s up against a formidable Republican. "I'm sort of the rock of Gibraltar," says Mica, who says District 7 needs a representative with his staying power and leadership.

And in the highly competitive 435 member U.S. Congress, Mica says his seniority is a good thing. "It will easily be another decade-and-a-half before another full committee chair comes from Central Florida, just because of seniority."

Mica's clout has allowed him to out-raise his opponent nearly two to one. At the end of July, his campaign had nearly a million dollars cash in hand while Adams had half that.

After a Rotary lunch meeting in Orlando Thursday where both Mica and Adams spoke, Mica was quick to quash any suggestion he'd paid for a high profile endorsement from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. "Oh absolutely not. You don't know what a stingy bastard I am. I wouldn't pay anybody for an endorsement."

Meanwhile Adams' campaign has picked up steam in recent days, with an online fundraising site raking in nearly $30,000 in just over 24 hours.

"We're doing just fine," says Adams.

There's also a Democratic primary in District 7, with new-deal Democrat Nicholas Ruiz up against blue-dog Jason Kendall for a chance to take on the winner of the Mica-Adams contest.

Jason Kendall says if he makes it through his primary, there are enough moderates to give him votes in November.

"Sandy’s something of an extremist," says Kendall. " Getting endorsed by Allan West or Sarah Palin might work in some places but I know a lot of people were really turned off by that endorsement.”

Both Republican candidates have a strong base of supporters, but there are some who still haven't made up their minds, like Steve Grier, who was at a recent Mitt Romney campaign event in Orlando. Grier said he wants to learn more about Adams and Mica.

"I like a lot of things about John Mica," he said. "I know that he was for SunRail, which I’m not real crazy about that aspect. But that remains to be seen. Honestly, I’ve had my eyes more on the presidential aspect of the race.”

 

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It's A Free Blog

Opinion: GOP Should Welcome the Spending Cuts They Bargained For

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mandatory spending cuts are on the horizon, and the party of fiscal discipline doesn't do itself any favors by running from them.

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It's A Free Blog

Opinion: The Senate Let Bush Tax Cuts Expire and All We Got Was This Lousy Economy

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb and Independent Joe Lieberman were right to vote against President Obama's political play to allow the tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year to expire in a few months.

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The Takeaway

Why The Name of the Aurora Shooter Should Be Remembered

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When President Obama traveled to Aurora earlier this week, he agreed to not use the name of the shooter in any of his public speeches. John Cassidy, staff writer for The New Yorker, thinks that gesture comes at a cost.

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It's A Free Country ®

What We Learned from Obama's Tax Speech

Monday, July 09, 2012

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

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The Takeaway

Tracing Michelle Obama's Multiracial Ancestry

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New York Times reporter Rachel Swarns has followed Michelle Obama's journey all the way back to through her ancestry. Swarns' new book "American Tapestry" explores the first lady's surprising genealogy.

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The Takeaway

Are Republican Governors to Thank for Swing State Growth?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Unemployment is dropping and debts are closing in some of the country’s big swing states. Can governors like Scott Walker and John Kasich of Ohio take credit for their states' revitalized economies? Or have President Obama's growth initiatives and bailouts had a positive effects?

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It's A Free Country ®

Buoyed by Automobile Hiring, Energy, & Tech, Swing State Employment Picture Outpaces Nation's

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The layers of irony could scarcely be denser.  Buoyed in part by automobile hiring, employment in swing states looks far better than the nation as a whole, providing a possible path to victory for President Barack Obama, who bailed out the big three auto manufacturers with a clothespin on his nose.

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The Takeaway

NATO Summit Searches for Path Out of Afghanistan

Monday, May 21, 2012

The annual NATO summit opened yesterday afternoon in Chicago, bringing leaders from around the world to President Obama’s former home to confront questions surrounding the future of a post-conflict Afghanistan. As the two-day summit continues today, Western leaders will try to further define their path out of Afghanistan. Hassina Sherjan is the founder and country director of Aid Afghanistan for Education. David Sanger is the chief Washington correspondent for our partner, The New York Times.

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The Takeaway

Are African-Americans "Evolving" on Same-Sex Marriage?

Friday, May 11, 2012

President Obama’s endorsement for gay marriage was a landmark moment for the nation, but African-Americans have historically been against the issue. Is that about to change? Rev. Delman Coates discusses ideologic and moral "evolution" of gay marriage in the African-American community. He is a pastor at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Prince George County, Maryland, and was among just a handful of African-American preachers in the state to support a bill this past February legalizing gay marriage.

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The Takeaway

President Obama Supports Same-Sex Marriage

Thursday, May 10, 2012

“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” President Obama told Robin Roberts in an interview with ABC News yesterday. The comments mark an apparent end to Obama’s two-year, self-described “evolution” on the issue. An openly gay minister from North Carolina and a spokesperson for the Christian-values group American Family Association share their reactions.

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The Takeaway

President Obama Addresses Americans from Afghanistan

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

It was a moment perfectly staged for an American audience: In a speech that neatly coincided with the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, President Obama addressed the country from Bagram Air Base after secretly traveling to Afghanistan. Takeaway Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich breaks down the President's address.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Cenk Uygur and "The Young Turks"

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The host of Current TV's "The Young Turks," Cenk Uygur, talks about Obama 2012, campaign finance reform, and the impact of the Occupy movement.

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The Takeaway

Economy or Personality? The Numbers Behind Obama and Romney's Vulnerabilities

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

As they look towards the general elections, it's clear that President Obama and GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney both face very specific problems. Romney’s problem is one of personality: no candidate in the modern polling era with personal favorability ratings as low as his has ever won the presidency. Obama doesn't have a popularity problem, but he does face some trouble with the economy: no incumbent president has ever won re-election with unemployment rates as high as they are likely to be in November. Carroll Doherty, associate director for Pew Research Center, and Kenneth C. Davis, author of "Don't Know Much About History," explain what is behind these numbers.

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The Takeaway

Secret Service Agents to be Investigated for Misconduct

Monday, April 16, 2012

Eleven Secret Service employees are accused of bringing prostitutes back to their hotel in Cartagena ahead of President Obama's visit for a summit in Colombia. The agents and officers have been placed on leave while the agency investigates their conduct. Although prostitution is legal in parts of Colombia and no law was broken, if the reports are true, the employees still violated rules of conduct. Tim Weiner, author of "Enemies: A History of the FBI," has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his work on national security. Weiner explains what happened and why the employees' alleged indiscretions could have put the President Obama's life at risk.

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Transportation Nation

BREAKING: Obama Signs Transpo Bill Extender into Law

Friday, March 30, 2012

This just in from the White House:

Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 4281

 On Friday, March 30, 2012, the President signed into law:

H.R. 4281, the "Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012," which provides funding for programs funded from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) for the period April 1, 2012, through June 30, 2012; and extends the authority to make expenditures from the HTF for HTF-financed programs through June 30, 2012.

 

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The Takeaway

President Embraces "ObamaCare"

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In this conversation with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communications and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, we hear how Democrats plan to rehabilitate the word "ObamaCare" through coordinated public relations campaigns online and off.  

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The Takeaway

President Obama Comments on Trayvon Martin

Monday, March 26, 2012

At a White House press conference on Friday, President Obama was asked to comment on the Trayvon Martin case. Ron Christie, Takeaway contributor and Republican political strategist says President Obama overstepped in his remarks. Xilla, an editor at Global Grinder, says the president's remarks were appropriate — and deeply moving.

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The Takeaway

The Agenda: Supreme Court Hears Health Care Arguments, President Obama in South Korea, Consumer Sentiment Reports

Monday, March 26, 2012

Todd ZwillichTakeaway Washington correspondent and Charlie Herman, business and economics editor for The Takeaway look at the stories coming up in the week ahead, including the Supreme Court hearings about health care legislation, President Obama's meetings in South Korea and the Conference Board Confidence Index and the Michigan Consumer Sentiment reports slated to come out this week.

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