The Senate’s “Dr. No” Says He’ll Block An Extension Unless Bike/Ped Is Cut

Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn is known around the Senate as “Dr. No” for his propensity to hold up key legislation, single-handedly, because it contains something not to his liking (or sometimes because he’s upset about something else entirely.) On Veterans Day in 2009, he shocked even his GOP colleagues by blocking veterans’ benefits because he wanted their cost to be offset. Because of a Senate rule requiring unanimity for certain votes, he alone has been able to block votes on wilderness protections, health care provisions, and disarmament in Uganda.

Dr. No paints a bullseye on bike/ped funding. Photo: ##http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/07/20/tom-coburn-dr-no-to-the-rescue-on-gang-of-six-debt-compromise-deal.html##Alex Wong / Getty Images##

Now Dr. No has his sights set on bicycle and pedestrian funding.

As calls for a “clean” extension to SAFETEA-LU poured in, Coburn made it clear last week he won’t get with the program. His spokesperson announced that Coburn would try to block the extension if Transportation Enhancements weren’t removed from the bill.

About two percent of the federal transportation budget goes to TE, and of that, 57 percent goes to bike/ped projects, with the rest funding streetscaping, historic preservation and other programs.

The GOP rallying cry against the miniscule amount of money for bicycle and pedestrian improvements is metastasizing. Earlier we reported that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was urging that dedicated funding for Transportation Enhancements be eliminated. And today, Cantor, along with House Speaker John Boehner, sent a letter to President Obama with the same demand:

We are not opposed to initiatives to repair and improve infrastructure, and believe there are reforms that can be implemented that would improve their effectiveness in a manner that supports economic growth. Current law requires that states set-aside 10 percent of their surface transportation funds for transportation enhancements, which must be used for items such as establishment of transportation museums, education activities for pedestrians and bicyclists, acquisition of scenic easements, historic preservation, operation of historic transportation facilities, etc. While many of the initiatives funded by this mandatory set-aside may be worthy projects, eliminating this required set-aside would allow states to devote more money to the types of infrastructure programs you are advocating without adding to the deficit. We believe such a reform would be consistent with your statement last week that we should “reform the way transportation money is invested, to eliminate waste, to give states more control over the projects that are right for them.”

Boehner and Cantor also hoped to find common ground with the president on speeding up reviews of infrastructure projects.

It’s hard to underestimate the damage that this Republican movement against TE can do. It will certainly complicate the passage of an extension of SAFETEA-LU, meaning that Sen. Coburn, and possibly other members of Congress, are declaring their willingness to throw the entire transportation industry, as well as commuters, under the bus while they quibble about the pennies spent on bike paths. According to the White House, if the bill is delayed just 10 days, the country would lose over $1 billion in transportation funding — “money we can never get back.”

How many senators will risk this kind of fallout by standing up for bike/ped funding?

Extensions used to be employed in order to buy more time so that lawmakers could debate policy changes. Now, policy changes are demanded in order to just buy more time. It’s in this frenzied, time-strapped atmosphere that Congress will decide over the next two weeks whether or not to kill federal support for active transportation programs.

  • MrBadexample

    Gee… guess we can’t count on Chuck ‘NBBL’ Schumer to champion this, right?

  • Anonymous

    Normally, I would call my liberal Senator, Chuck Schumer, and ask him to oppose Coburn.  But after PPW, I’m not so sure.

  • Anonymous

    Just like railing against public broadcasting, it’s a perfect political opportunity to grandstand about fiscal responsibility while not actually making any significant cuts to spending, and score a point against progressives as a bonus.  Maybe the problem is that the targets are too small, and therefore too easy to take out.  It seems like the way to beat it is to bind interests together like Title 9, or bans on abortion funding do (to give examples from both sides of the aisle).  Maybe this has to happen on a municipal and state level so Republicans like Schumer [sic] can’t derail it.

  • Anonymous

    Just like railing against public broadcasting, it’s a perfect political opportunity to grandstand about fiscal responsibility while not actually making any significant cuts to spending, and score a point against progressives as a bonus.  Maybe the problem is that the targets are too small, and therefore too easy to take out.  It seems like the way to beat it is to bind interests together like Title 9, or bans on abortion funding do (to give examples from both sides of the aisle).  Maybe this has to happen on a municipal and state level so Republicans like Schumer [sic] can’t derail it.

  • Bad President

    Guaranteed Obama will go along with this.

  • With Coburn’s grandstanding, I say screw it and eliminate transportation funding completely. If Coburn doesn’t want to fund enhancements by holding all of transportation funding hostage, I say let him.

    No way this will happen, of course. A moratorium on transpo spending wil result in screaming mobs from almost every political persuasion voting out the incumbent.

  • Avoid OKC

    I drove through the whole state of Oklahoma twice this summer, north to south and back.  Oklahoma City has the most poorly paved, awful, terrible roads I have ever laid tires on. And the state’s 75mph speed limit is insane.

  • Wait, why does this bozo have the power to single-handedly “block” legislation in the first place…?

  • This is GREAT!  China is going to own the Middle East within ten years and oil will be $700 to $1000 (US) per barrel.  Gas will be $10 gallon at least and all the Republican voters will be howling for better transit and transportation alternatives.  But of course it won’t be possible to provide it because the infrastructure to support it will have been eviscerated.  Can you say economic Armageddon when no one can get to work?  
    Invest in China, folks.  The Publicans are handing them the future.  

  • The time has come to eliminate all roadway funding not paid directly by roadway users.  Users pay by the pound, but to ease the bureaucracy & promote fairness, make first 300 lbs free. 

    Stop taking my INCOME TAX and spending it on roads for cars!  Make cars pay for the damage they do to the roads through a legitimate (== higher) fuel tax and annual pay-by-the-pound excise tax. 

  • Gil

    Remove all Federal funding categories and return the funds to the States in the form of transportation funding block grants, then let the local municipalities and stage governments decide how the funds should be spent.  Similarly, I would like to see every state receive back every penny that they put in with respect to transportation funding.  Currently, the populous states such as California, Texas, and Florida are all “donor” states meaning they do not get back everything they send to Washington.  This represents one of the insanity of our  of bureaucracy, take funds from where it is needed most and send it to Montana or North Dakota. 

  • Anonymous

    @faf3ecd74a3fa2137b5d75985a347f9d:disqus Well said! It’s ludicrous that a state that could swallow ten Oklahoma’s has to be subject to the fancies of brainless, backward thinking politicians from 2000 miles away. Return the funds to the states and if the senator from Oklahoma wants to cut funding for bike/pedestrian, let him.

  • Fed Up!

    It seems to me like no one is wanting to cut spending in any area.  Every time someone presents a small cut to anything, people are up in arms.  If we want to spend our way into oblivion, we can keep up the status quo and then there will be no money for anything. 
    We need to look at everything and decide how to best spend our tax money.  I think things like musuems, etc. are not the best way. 

  • Albert

    “Because of a Senate rule requiring unanimity for certain votes, he
    alone has been able to block votes on wilderness protections, health
    care provisions, and disarmament in Uganda. Now Dr. No has his sights set on bicycle and pedestrian funding.”

    The implication is, of course, that the particular vote the article is talking about is one of those “requiring unanimity.”  Is it?  What exactly are those “certain votes” and why/when do they require unanimity?  Now I’m really concerned!  When can Congress ever be unanimous about anything?  Not even after Pearl Harbor.

  • This is despicable. Dr. No should set his sites on the funding of the Afghanistan, Iraq,
    and Libyan wars.  Bring the troops home.  Let those guys fight their own battles.  The US has overextended itself as a military power.

    Bicycling and walking must be encouraged not cut.

  • Anonymous

    @691b451446694182a0abc9bfd67d0cad:disqus  Oh, damn! Use of the phrase “status quo” in any context results in immediate disqualification from rational discussion.

  • Anonymous

    For anyone wondering the Senate requires “unanimous consent” for daily business. It has historically never been an issue in day to day Senate operations. But any Senator can object and thus require roll call voting on a huge number of routine matters basically causing a de-facto filibuster of the Senate.

    Recently (last 10 years or so) has seen a huge rise in these types of hostage situations in the Senate because it allows individual Senators to kill a bill without “old style” filibustering.

  • Nikko P

    “…which must be used for items such as establishment of transportation museums, education activities for pedestrians and bicyclists, acquisition of scenic easements, historic preservation, operation of historic transportation facilities, etc.”

    How accurate is this? And I’m guessing he’s cherry-picking these examples that he says should be cut but in reality includes other more important things?

  • Remind me again why we put up with this vile institution called the Senate?

  • @897d589404fcf93df8b583c91376130d:disqus 
    It’s accurate. Here’s a list of the 12 programs that make up Transportation Enhancements: http://www.enhancements.org/12_activities.asp. Page two here shows the breakdown: http://www.enhancements.org/download/Spending_Report/Exec_Summary_Spending_FY10.pdf. (Add “bike/ped facilities” to “rail-trails” to get the 57% total for bike/ped.)

  • Jon S.

    Cantor’s statement is inaccurate though in that over 75 percent of the money for the program goes to the following three items: (1) bike and pedestrian paths, (2) landscaping, and (3) rehabilitation of old terminals for actual operational use.

    Cantor has taken various small subprograms and blown them up to make this seem like the law requires states to build museums, which is flat out deception.

  • Ronkahty624

    Need to stop the excessive spending.  I thing Senator Coburn teaches a leason on how much our government likes to spend just because of someone’s initiative.  If the law requires the state to set aside monies for these improvments in the infrasturctures then that should be the end of the discussion.  When are elected officials going to take Senator Coburn’s example of upholding the law of the Constitution.  Elected officials are bending the rules of the Constitution to pass there own initiatives and disregard law and now we are in debt beyond our children.  It takes courage for someone like this man to put his foot down and say no to the excess spending of this government.

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