Perhaps Rep. John Mica’s most remarkable legacy as chair of the House Transportation Committee is the single-minded focus he gave to attacking Amtrak. Under the guise of wanting it to succeed, Mica has repeatedly excoriated it as a “Soviet-style monopoly” and a waste of taxpayer dollars. He’s tried to sell off its only profitable line, the Northeast Corridor, and made a mockery of every aspect of its operations, right down to food service. If there’s anything he got more glee out of criticizing, it was the Transportation Security Administration.
Mica’s no longer chair of the Transportation Committee. But as of this morning, he’s got a new post from which he can take shots at these agencies.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where Mica was already a senior member, is consolidating two subcommittees into a new Subcommittee on Government Operations. That new subcommittee will oversee the TSA and Amtrak. And Mica will be the chair.
In other committee news, 10 new Republicans and 10 new Democrats are joining the T&I committee. Democrats gained one seat on the 60-member committee. New Chair Bill Shuster has a track record of taking new members under his wing to bring them up to speed on the intricacies of transportation policy. No doubt, many lobbyists will take it upon themselves to do the same.
In the Senate, Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski will take over the chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee. Media reports about her leadership of that committee center around her gender — she’ll be the first woman to chair it — but more notable to transportation reformers is the fact that she’s a vocal supporter of transit. She’s fought for federal funding of all the transit systems under her jurisdiction as well as Amtrak. After the red line Metro crash in 2009, she sponsored legislation to bring federal safety oversight to local systems, a provision that was included in MAP-21. She also favors parity between commuter tax benefits for drivers and transit riders, which was included in the fiscal cliff deal that was approved late on New Years Day.
Massachusetts’ new senator, consumer champion Elizabeth Warren, joins the Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over public transit. Warren had the ardent support of the Amalgamated Transit Union during her campaign. “Elizabeth Warren recognizes the importance of public transit and the critical role public transportation plays in Massachusetts’ economy and for students, seniors and people with disabilities who rely on mass transit each day,” said ATU International President Larry Hanley. “Warren will be a strong voice in the Senate for transit workers and working families.”
Despite much speculation that he might step down, Sen. Jay Rockefeller will continue as chair of the Commerce Committee, which controls rail. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who last year shot a public service announcement encouraging Connecticut citizens to make environmentally sound transportation choices, is the only new Democrat to join that committee. Several new Republicans will join the transportation panel.
The Democratic roster of the Environment and Public Works Committee remains the same as the last session, with Sen. Barbara Boxer keeping the gavel. Sen. James Inhofe is stepping down as ranking member, to be replaced by Louisiana Republican David Vitter, who holds similar positions to Inhofe’s — in favor of robust levels of investment in highways and anxious to end federal funding of transit and bike/ped programs.