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The Takeaway

International Plans to End Syrian Conflict

Monday, January 23, 2012

Over the past ten months, Syrian Security Forces have killed more than 5,000 protestors across the country. But this weekend, two key voices announced their calls to action: the Arab League will seek U.N. Security Council approval to peacefully end the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer introduced a bill that would block financial aid and create trade sanctions against Syrian leaders involved in the crackdown.

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The Takeaway

House Republicans Reject Payroll Tax Deal

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

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

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Payroll Tax Compromise Would Force Obama To Make Pipeline Decision; Saab Files for Bankruptcy

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top stories on TN:
Even in Austere Era, Mitt Romney Promises To Fund Roads, Bridges, and Rail (link)
Texas Transpo Officials Hope Light-Hearted Campaign Will Help Curb DWI Fatality Stats (link)
NY vs. Chicago: Whose Bike Share Is Biggest? (link)
Delta's Big New York Expansion (link)
Daytona Beach Researchers Are Transforming Air Travel (link)

CalTrain in San Francisco (photo by Todd Lappin via Flickr)

The Senate passed a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday with language that would force Obama to make a decision on the Keystone pipeline. (Politico, Bloomberg)

Saab Automobile filed for bankruptcy, giving up a desperate struggle to stay in business after previous owner General Motors Co. blocked takeover attempts by Chinese investors. (AP via NPR)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is drawing up what some consider a “take it or leave it” compromise on a plan to let livery cabs pick up street hails. (New York Daily News)

Top three Google searches for the New York metropolitan area: (3) Hopstop (2) NJ Transit (1) MTA. (Huffington Post)

Pictorial: how public transit celebrates the holidays -- from Chicago's Holiday Train to San Francisco's candy cane-like streetcars. (Atlantic Cities)

Troy's City Council will vote on whether to approve a new transit center tonight. (Detroit Free Press)

A Defense appropriations bill comes with a parking cap, forcing the Army to reevaluate the traffic impact as it transfers workers to the DC region's Mark Center. (Washington Post)

On January 1, tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway will increase 53% and 50%, respectively. (The Star-Ledger)

New York State picked a pair of consultants to figure out how to pay for the Tappan Zee Bridge. (Times Union)

 

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The Takeaway

Capitol Hill: GOP Blocks Cordray From CFPB; Gingrich's Popularity in Congress

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Takeaway Washington correspondent Todd Zwillich looks at two major stories playing out inside the halls of Congress this week. The White House is attempting to push recalcitrant Senate Republicans to confirm former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Forty-five Senate Republicans signed a letter in May vowing to block any nominee unless Congress was given more oversight of the bureau. Zwillich also spent time on Capitol hill talking to lawmakers about GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich. 

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The Takeaway

Dueling Tax Cut Extension Plans Fail in the Senate

Friday, December 02, 2011

Neither Democrats' nor Republicans' plans for extending payroll tax cuts passed the Senate on Thursday. The former proposed to extend tax cuts on federal withholdings like Social Security and unemployment for employers and employees; the latter wanted to freeze federal worker's pay until 2015 and reduce that workforce by ten percent. While the respective failure of both measures is attributable to partisanship, some senator's refusals to vote along party lines reflect fierce internal debates about the best way to proceed.

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The Takeaway

Obama Continues to Push Infrastructure Bill

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Senate is set to vote on a new part of President Obama's $447 billion jobs bill which includes funding for programs to help build roads, bridges and other public works programs. The bill is likely to fail, but that has not stopped the president from continuing to campaign for its passage. Andrea Bernstein, director of the Transportation Nation project and senior correspondent for WNYC, looks at why President Obama continues to push for infrastructure despite it looking like a losing cause.

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Transportation Nation

Senate Approves Austere Transpo Spending Bill; High Speed Rail Funding Plummets

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Democratic-controlled Senate backed $108 billion in Fiscal 2012 federal transportation spending 69-30, flatlining budgets as Washington operates in a climate of spending cuts.

The bill passed after a long-delayed flourish of votes Tuesday.

It funds most transportation, transit and highway programs at or near levels for the Fiscal year that ended Sept 30. But when factored for inflation, it amounts to cuts to many programs. That’s largely because of new spending caps in place after Republicans and Democrats agreed to cuts during the federal debt limit fight last summer.

It also sets up a confrontation with the House Republicans, who have yet to approve a companion bill but are contemplating funding transportation at substantially lower levels. A House bill in the works now cuts $16 billion from transportation programs.

One big loser: High speed rail. The Senate bill has a mere $100 million for President Obama’s high speed rail initiative. While $10 billion has already gone to the program through stimulus and other spending, Congress is getting set to essentially zero it out for 2012. House Republicans have shown no appetite to fund high-speed rail further.

The Senate’s bill contains $55.3 billion in budget authority for the Department of Transportation. The rest is roughly $64 billion expected to be siphoned to federal highway programs through the Highway Trust Fund.

It leaves out a separate proposal from the White House that would create a $10 billion infrastructure bank to help capitalize infrastructure projects. That plan is tied up in election-year wrangling between Republicans and Democrats but may get a Senate vote in the coming weeks. Republicans have declared it dead in the House, however.

Here are a few of the funding levels contained in the bill:

$800 million in vehicle an driver safety programs

$550 million for “TIGER” infrastructure projects

$90 million for the "Sustainable Communities Initiative" at HUD

$41 billion in federal highway projects outside of the Highway Trust Fund

$25 million in transit energy efficiency grants

$8 million for new safety inspectors at the FAA

Meanwhile, the Senate turned away an amendment that would have limited how states can use “transportation enhancement” funds that normally go to aesthetic projects, sidewalks, bikelanes and other goodies. It killed another that would have pared back subsidies for some rural airports.

And, heartening planning groups, the Senate continued funding for the Obama administration's "sustainable communities" initiative, which is meant to encourage development that prioritizes transit and denser housing construction.

"We applaud the Senate for including continued funding for these programs in its proposed bill," said Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America."This means more efficient federal policies and a better use of taxpayer dollars. "

But that cheer may be short-lived: Even though the bill passed the Senate with solid bipartisan support, the fun is far from over. Thanks to partisan clashes over spending, the government is currently operating under a stopgap measure that expires November 18. If there’s no agreement on spending by then, Democrats and Republicans will either have to agree on another extension, or reach a grand bargain on spending for Fiscal 2012.

Transportation money could wriggle out from under the spending mess if the House passes its bill AND the House and Senate agree to a compromise by November 18. If not, it’s more negotiation not just over transpo dollars, but tied in with the rest of the government’s funding as well.

Bill summary is here.

Follow Todd Zwillich on Twitter: @toddzwillich

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The Takeaway

Democratic Leaders Propose New Tax on Millionaires

Thursday, October 06, 2011

On Wednesday, Senate Democratic leaders proposed a five percent surtax on Americans with incomes of $1 million or more per year. Senate majority leader Harry Reid said the surtax would raise nearly half of $1 trillion over the next decade, which is the amount necessary to cover President Obama's jobs bill. A recent CBS news poll showed that 64 percent of Americans think that those who earn more than $1 million per year should pay more in taxes, which means the public may be on board for the new tax. Now, Democrats will need to gain Republican support for the measure.

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The Takeaway

Senate Passes Bill to Alter China's Currency Practices

Monday, October 03, 2011

Senate leaders say the Chinese government's practice of forcing the value of the Yuan artificially low, in comparison to the U.S. dollar, gives Chinese companies an unfair advantage in trade, and is harming the American job market. To combat this, the Senate has passed a bipartisan bill, which the White House is reviewing, to pressure Beijing to alleviate some of those financial controls.

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The Takeaway

Elizabeth Warren on Her Bid for Massachusetts Senate

Friday, September 30, 2011

Elizabeth Warren announced her bid for the Massachusetts Senate seat currently occupied by Republican Scott Brown (and formerly by Democrat Edward Kennedy) just over two weeks ago. Since then, she's obtained widespread support from top Democrats and has created a moderately viral video.

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The Takeaway

Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Google Antitrust Hearings

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Senate panel will open an antitrust inquiry into the business practices of Google today. The search giant's executive chairman Eric Schmidt is expected to testify. Federal authorities are accusing the company of playing favorites with its own businesses in search results. Microsoft endured a similar antitrust case, which took nearly a year to resolve.

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The Takeaway

Elizabeth Warren to Run for Senate; House Passes FAA Funding Bill

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren officially announced her candidacy for Senate in Massachusetts on Wednesday. Warren was the driving force behind the creation of the Consumer Protection Agency, and has been a lightening rod for Congressional Republicans. She'll be challenging Senator Scott Brown, who was elected in a special election to fill Ted Kennedy's seat in 2010. (You can watch her official announcement after the jump.)

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It's A Free Country ®

Who is Elizabeth Warren?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Elizabeth Warren, Obama administration insider and bank bailout overseer, is expected to announce a run for U.S. Senate Wednesday, challenging Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown.

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The Takeaway

Congress Reaches FAA Deal, Easing Pain on Thousands of Furloughed Workers

Friday, August 05, 2011

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday that Congress has struck a deal to fund the Federal Aviation Administration, ending a weeks-long partisan impasse that kept 4,000 FAA workers off the job, and tens of thousands out of work in airport construction. The Senate will ensure that a deal can be made before lawmakers leave for August vacation, and the bill will fund the agency through September 16.

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Transportation Nation

Senator Reid Relents; FAA Likely To Reopen

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday Democrats are prepared to give in to House Republicans in the two-week old standoff over the Federal Aviation Administration. But other Democrats appear less willing to give in and could put a kink in Reid's plan.

UPDATE:  Democrats have walked that back, and now say there won't be a deal, setting the stage to keep the partial shutdown going until September.  Read the latest HERE.

Reid told reporters he's prepared to accept the House's version of a bill temporarily reauthorizing the FAA. If no other senator objects that means the stare-down will end and the FAA can soon reopen.

"Sometimes you have to step back and find out what's best for the country," Reid said Tuesday.

Minutes later, a spokesman for Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-Va.), emailed to say: "Not over til it's over." (Note: so true -- TN learned minutes later Democrats wouldn't agree to the House's FAA bill.)

Reid would need the agreement of all senators to go ahead with his plan to accept the House GOP bill, send it to the president, and re-open the FAA. That statement from the Rockefeller aide suggests that agreement may not be easy to get.

Indeed, a Senate Democratic aide emailed moments ago to say the situation is "at an impasse."

Here's a transcript of Reid's remarks. You can listen to the audio here.

Todd Zwillich: If Republicans don't accept a clean temporary extension to the FAA after you're on the floor by the end of the day will you accept the House version and re-open the FAA?

Senator Reid: Yes.  I have said we have 80,000 jobs at least on the line.  In Nevada, as an example, we have a new airport tower there that they started the construction about two weeks ago, all those people have been laid off.  That's a huge project, nearly a $100 million project.

Barbara Boxer just told me they have problem with the control tower in Palm Springs and as I understood it  they've shut down the construction on that and they only have one there so that's difficult.

The Essential Air Services is a program I believe in but I also believe that $3500 per passenger is a little extreme, that's what Ely Neva is and I do my best to protect the state but sometimes you have to be reasonable,  I think, as we learned with this big deal we've just done. Sometimes you have to step back and do what's best by the country and not be bound by some of your own personal issues. I'm willing to give that up I hope the other Senators would do the same.

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Transportation Nation

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

Monday, August 01, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transportation Nation

GOP Floats 6-year, $230 Billion Transportation Bill, Dems Balk

Thursday, July 07, 2011

John Mica, center, chairing a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting at Grand Central Station (Kate Hinds)

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich) House Republicans formally floated an outline of their 6-year transportation bill Thursday, promising to try for large cuts in highway funding and to send more influence over projects to the states.

GOP lawmakers presented the $230 billion bill as a way to fund critical transportation projects in lean economic times. Democrats promptly attacked it as inadequate and said it would not reach President Obama for a signature.

The most glaring top-line from Republicans’ bill is a major curb in federal highways spending. The bill caps spending from the Highway Trust Fund to what it takes in in taxes. That’s projected at right around $35 billion per year over six-year life of the bill. That would comprise a major cut in highway spending, which has been borrowing money from the rest of the government for years to fund new projects and upkeep. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the stimulus, alone has spent about $63 billion on highway projects since 2009.

“We believe we can do a lot more with less,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) at the committee’s roll-out event on Capitol Hill.

The “more” part, Mica said, comes from streamlining how highway projects go from blueprint to blacktop. The bill pares back environmental review requirements and other clearances for new projects. It also overhauls or eliminates up to 70 programs that now funnel money into highway projects and instead focuses on sending money to states in the form of loans and infrastructure bank installments.

A GOP handout promoting the bill states that the average highway project would get completed in six years under the bill, compared with 15 years now.

All of this together, Mica said, would mean more, not less, money reaching projects.

“I think we can more than double the $35 billion we have in the Trust Fund,” he said.

Still the funding level is way below a $55 billion-per-year, two-year proposal put forward by Senate Democrats Wednesday. That points up a deep divide that many lawmakers think will be impossible to bridge in order to get a final bill. The transportation sector is now operating under Congress’s 8th temporary extension.

Republicans are also proposing to up the direct federal loans under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) to $1 billion and to give more control over the funds to state and local authorities. That’s good news for mayors like Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, who chimed in by phone to offer his support.

Republicans are also gunning for changes in high-speed rail funding, including the very definition of “high-speed”. Trains funded under the bill would have to go at least 125 mph to qualify as high-speed, not the 110 mph used now.

 

View House Republicans 17-page bill outline here (http://republicans.transportation.house.gov/Media/file/112th/Highways/Reauthorization_document.pdf)

 

Actual text of the Republicans’ bill could be out in time for a scheduled hearing next Tuesday. But Democrats took little time to trash the GOP proposal.

 

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), called Mica’s bill a “road to ruin.". "It takes our nation in the wrong direction, backwards instead of forwards. Instead of putting America on a pathway to prosperity, this bill provides the necessary funds for transportation to half the country and tells the other half to wait around for the next time," said Rahall, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Given the $20 billion-per-year gap between House Republicans’ 6-year bill and Senate Democrats’ 2-year bill, prospects of the GOP proposal surviving in its current form seem dim.

John Mica, center, chairing a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting at Grand Central Station (Kate Hinds)

“I don’t think it goes anywhere,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a member of the committee, said in an interview.  “I don’t think six years of stability is worth setting bar so low that it’ll take us years to crawl back. I think what’s most likely is we’ll get probably a 2-year extension.

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The Takeaway

Kerry, McCain Put Out Joint Resolution on Libya

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

There are potentially three different votes pertaining to Libya happening in Washington this week. House Republicans are set to vote on a proposal that would defund the American military mission in Libya, and Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) put out a joint resolution on Tuesday authorizing limited use of forces in Libya. The senators are partly responding to critics who say President Obama violated the War Powers Act by not getting the mission in Libya approved ahead of time by Congress. There is also talk of the House putting out its own resolution to remove all troops from NATO operations in Libya.

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Transportation Nation

Senator: I'll Go After All Energy Tax Breaks

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

(Todd Zwillich -- Washington, D.C) As Congress rummages for every dollar it can find to throw toward the national debt, one Republican senator says he knows where he can find billions: energy tax breaks.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, the number-three Republican in the Senate, says he's cooking up a plan to cancel most if not all tax breaks enjoyed by the energy sector. Instead Alexander would spend the money on clean energy R+D and lowering the deficit.

This comes a day after Alexander and 33 other Republicans backed a proposal to eliminate $6 billion in taxpayer subsidies enjoyed by the ethanol industry. That vote was seen in Washington as a strong signal that Republicans are ready to put once-sacred tax breaks on the table in an effort to strike a debt deal with Democrats.

"I and my staff are looking at all energy tax breaks," Alexander told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday. "I expect that before long I'll have legislation that will look at all tax breaks," he said.

Such a bill would almost certainly become part of a broader debate over reducing the national debt or another fight over tax code reform expected later this year.

Either way, the success of Alexander's effort could mean a fundamental reordering--or in some cases elimination--of billions in tax breaks helping the energy sector.

Alexander said he'll try to eliminate all or most long-standing energy tax breaks and instead put some of the money toward "a Manhattan project for clean energy research." A lot of the burden would fall squarely on utilities and power generation companies. But ethanol, natural gas, and oil and gas tax credits opposed by most Democrats would also presumably be included. Democrats are already vowing to include a repeal of oil company tax credits in any deal with Republicans over the debt.

Alexander is a supporter of electric cars, however, and he said Wednesday he'd favor some "jump start" tax incentives for electric cars and the development of a 500-mile battery. The idea, he said, is to give a boost to burgeoning clean energy technology then cast it to the mercy of the free market.

"I don't think electric cars deserve any sort of government support after four, five years. If they can't survive in the marketplace then they ought to be, y'know, thrown in the junk pile," Alexander said.

Right now consumers can cash in on a $7,500 credit for buying a plug-in electric car. There's also a $1,000 federal residential charging credit for plug-in car owners.

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Transportation Nation

TN Moving Stories: Senate Nixes Offshore Drilling Expansion; LaHood Says HSR Is On Track -- but WaPo Says Not So in California

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Oil Rigs near Huntington Beach (Aaron Logan)

The Senate rejected Republican-backed legislation intended to speed up and expand offshore oil and gas drilling. (The Hill)

One card to rule them all: Clipper card users can now refill their cards at BART ticket vending machines. (San Jose Mercury News)

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said plans for high-speed rail systems were moving ahead and that he was confident of their long-term prospects. (Wall Street Journal)

Counterpoint: a Washington Post editorial says that California's high-speed rail is going off the rails.

Pennsylvania's environmental regulator has told natural gas drillers not to dump waste into rivers used for drinking water. (Marketplace)

Internal Affairs will be monitoring NYC's traffic courts for evidence of ticket fixing by police. (New York Times)

Wealthy Chinese are stealthily -- and illegally -- flying helicopters. (NY Times)

Chennai (India) eyes bus rapid transit. (The Hindu)

Follow Transportation Nation on Twitter.

In case you missed it on Transportation Nation:

-- The Takeaway wants to know: how are higher gas prices affecting you? (link)

-- Florida lawmakers take on gas price gouging (link)

-- DDOT makes Terry Bellamy official (link)

-- proceedings start in Brooklyn bike lane lawsuit (link)

-- a new report says transit only works if it takes you to work (link)

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