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Posts from the "Barbara Boxer" Category

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EPW Big Four Announce Plan to Maintain Status Quo for the Next Transpo Bill

Sen. Barbara Boxer, together with Sens. Carper, Vitter and Barrasso, announced their agreement to maintain the status quo with the next bill. Screenshot from press conference.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, together with Sens. Carper, Vitter and Barrasso, announced their agreement to maintain the status quo with the next bill. Screenshot from press conference.

Last year, while the House flailed in partisan misery, the Senate passed a transportation bill 74 to 22. When the bill was signed into law, it was considered one of the few real achievements of a deeply divided Congress. Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer got tremendous credit for enacting legislation three years in the making. And yet, it left a lot of good provisions on the cutting-room floor. While MAP-21 included some modest reforms, lawmakers missed an opportunity to prioritize transit, biking, and walking – modes that are gaining popularity and help achieve national goals like congestion mitigation and air quality improvement.

History appears to be repeating itself. This morning, Sen. Boxer (D-CA) joined with the rest of the “Big Four” of the EPW Committee — Ranking Republican David Vitter (R-LA), Transportation Subcommittee Chair Tom Carper (D-DE) and Subcommittee Ranking Republican John Barrasso (R-WY) — to announce that they had reached agreement on a set of principles to guide the next bill.

While it’s good news to hear the senators are working together and making progress, they’re not proposing any solutions to the nation’s dysfunctional transportation policy, which funnels billions of dollars to wasteful road expansions ever year. Below is a look at the guiding principles (verbatim, in bold) and what they mean:

  • Passing a long-term bill, as opposed to a short-term patch. You won’t find anyone who says they want a short-term bill. There is unanimous agreement that a two-year bill was inadequate and that the next bill must last five or six or even 10 years. The challenge has always been to find enough funding to pay for such a long bill. MAP-21 pulled coins out of the proverbial cushions to piece together a somewhat illusory pay-for to get MAP-21 passed. Even President Obama’s proposal for the next bill is just four years.
  • Maintaining the formulas for existing core programs. Ouch. A primary goal of transportation reformers is to tie more money to performance and merit instead of giving states no-strings-attached funding that tends to get wasted on highway expansion. Reforming the existing formulas could force states to prove that they’re spending money well, using a benefit-cost analysis in their decision making, and thinking smart about the future.

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Boxer Demands Restoration of MAP-21 Funding Levels

The MAP-21 transportation bill was just signed two months ago, and its funding levels, agreed to by a difficult and fragile compromise between warring political parties, are already under attack.

Sen. Boxer toured a BART construction project last month in San Jose. Photo courtesy of Office of Sen. Barbara Boxer.

In Congress, authorization and budgeting are two different processes, run out of different committees. And right now, House budgeters are looking to shave down the $52.6 billion a year MAP-21 allocated for transportation. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who presided over the passage of MAP-21, would like to see those authorized numbers stay sacrosanct.

Meanwhile, Congress is bound by the Budget Control Act, passed by Congress last summer as part of the debt ceiling deal, to cap overall funding levels at $1.047 trillion for next year. The House is working on a six-month continuing resolution to fund the federal government at that level for FY2013. (That’s the way Congress has been passing budgets lately – since they can’t agree on a real budget, they just pass continuing resolutions and agree to keep the previous year’s budget, sometimes with a little tinkering.)

The House’s continuing resolution would cut transportation funding half a billion dollars below MAP-21 levels.

In a letter sent yesterday to House Speaker John Boehner, Boxer reminded him that MAP-21 was “bipartisan legislation which passed the House of Representatives with an overwhelming vote of 373-52” and that it “included an inflationary adjustment for fiscal years 2013 and 2014” which the House bill “failed to protect.”

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Politico: Boxer Already Working on the Next Transportation Bill

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) confirmed she is already working on the next transportation bill — “two months to the day after President Obama signed MAP-21 into law and before the new policies even kick in on Oct. 1,” according to Politico, which broke the story this morning.

Sen. Barbara Boxer is already thinking about the next bill. Photo: flickr/JD Lasica

In an interview with Adam in Charlotte, Boxer said her “goal is to find a dependable funding source and to work in a bipartisan way to find that funding source. I really believe that the Highway Trust Fund should be funded through user fees.” That might include indexing the gas tax to inflation, but probably not a vehicle miles traveled fee, which raises privacy concerns for the California senator. Even a gas tax bump won’t be enough if vehicles keep getting more and more efficient.

Reformers have some ideas for the next bill, too. Making the Highway Trust Fund self-sustaining is a good goal, since a strapped fund leads to some really bad ideas, like jettisoning mass transit and even the tiny sliver of the pie allocated to active transportation. Putting national goals like emissions reductions and public health improvement front and center would help too — as long as real performance measures are attached.

In any event, that was a quick honeymoon period. If you thought you were going to have at least six months to rest on your laurels before getting back into the ring to fight for a better bill next time around: Surprise! It’s game time.

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Pressure Mounts to Hold Sen. Boxer to Her Word on Safe Streets

With conference negotiations occurring in a black box, transportation advocates on all sides are anxiously awaiting word of the final deal. Rumors abound that Democrats have been willing to negotiate away local control over bike/ped funding as a bargaining chip to get other concessions from Republicans. We don’t know if this is true or not, but bike advocates are stepping up their game, trying to hold Sen. Barbara Boxer to her promises to preserve funding support for small-scale street safety projects.

America Bikes took out an ad in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, Boxer’s hometown paper. (Click on the image to see the full ad.)

Other groups are keeping the pressure on, too. The California Bicycle Coalition, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, and other California groups are getting in on the action. “7500 pedestrians killed in CA since 2000 @SenatorBoxer,” tweeted WOBO this morning. “Pass Cardin-Cochran, make walking/biking safer!”

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Top 10 Reasons Sen. Boxer Must Keep Her Word on Bike/Ped Programs

This post originally appeared on www.bikeleague.org. The author is the president of the League of American Bicyclists.

For the past 20 years, local elected officials have been given rare access to state transportation funds through a handful of programs administered by state Departments of Transportation as grant programs. These also happen to be the primary sources of funding for bicycling and walking initiatives: Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements and Recreational Trails. They account for just 1.5 percent of the overall federal transportation bill and have all been heavily over-subscribed since their creation.

Who could be against healthy programs like Safe Routes to School? Photo by Allan Crawford.

Despite the overwhelming success and popularity of these programs, House Republican leadership and a handful of influential Senators have waged an unexplained and inexplicable vendetta against these programs — not to save the government any money, just to prevent state or local governments spending their money on these specific programs and activities, removing any vestige of local control over transportation investments into the bargain.

The threat of elimination provoked a rare display of bipartisanship in both the House and Senate — a bi-partisan effort to preserve these programs was narrowly defeated in a heavily-whipped House committee vote by just two votes (29-27) and the equally bi-partisan Cardin-Cochran amendment to the Senate transportation bill was successfully adopted.

Remarkably, the single-minded attacks on even the bi-partisan Cardin-Cochran compromise continue. House leadership entered the conference committee process to hammer out a transportation bill (something they couldn’t even get passed in the House itself) with the elimination of funding for bicycling and walking as a top priority. Senate conferees are struggling to hold the line against these attacks, desperate as they are to get a transportation bill — a jobs bill — completed before the summer.

Here are our top ten reasons why Senator Boxer must hang tough, keep her word, and lead the transportation committee conferees to reject these small-minded and vindictive attacks:

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Boxer and Mica Release Vague Reassurance of Progress

Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. John Mica just released this statement:

The conferees have moved forward toward a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a highway reauthorization bill.  Both House and Senate conferees will continue to work with a goal of completing a package by next week.

From what we’re hearing, whatever deal they’ve reached only applies to the EPW portion on highways. That means transit and rail are still pending an agreement, as are the hot-button issues like Keystone, coal ash, and environmental reviews. But bike-ped funding is part of the highways section, so with any luck, we’ll have word soon on whether the Cardin-Cochran amendment has survived. The amendment provides for some limited local control over funding for small-scale transportation projects.

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Boxer Changes Her Tone, Adopts a Fighting Stance

The transportation bill conference committee negotiations have been difficult and contentious, by all accounts — all except Senator Barbara Boxer’s account. The EPW chair has been optimistic when others have been bitter, consistently focusing on how much the two sides agree rather than the places where they’re still far apart.

Barbara Boxer sharpened her rhetoric yesterday about the House Republicans' foot-dragging on a transportation bill. Photo: Tanya Snyder.

But that seemed to change with her fighting words at a press event yesterday.

“I’ll be candid,” she said. “There is only one group standing in the way of a bill, standing in the way of three million jobs, standing in the way of thousands and thousands of businesses struggling right now — and those are the House Republicans.”

The seven other senators who joined her at the podium used even stronger words. New York Democrat Chuck Schumer decried the “militants, radicals, and extremists” among the House Republicans — not all Republicans, he was careful to note — who don’t believe the federal government should even be involved in building transportation infrastructure.

Do the math, said Sen. John Kerry. Every billion dollars invested in infrastructure yields an estimated 27,000 to 35,000 jobs. This is a $109 billion bill — “that’s several million jobs.” He echoed a point Schumer had made, that the economy is recovering but is being held back by lingering high unemployment in the construction sector. “Those folks would go to work tomorrow if this bill were passed,” Kerry said, adding that it was “an utter disgrace that people would say they’re with the American people and then refuse a bill that would put them back to work.”

“Where’s the speed bump? Where’s the road block?” asked Delaware’s Chris Coons. “It’s right there,” he said, pointing to the southern wing of the Capitol building, “in the House of Representatives.”

The senators were joined by a convoy of five large construction trucks behind them (breaking DC’s three-minute idling law), symbolizing the idling construction sector, one assumes.

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Stakeholders Beg Conferees to Stop Acting Like Children

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s noon press conference started out as a bit of a mess. The Senate press gallery announced it was canceled five minutes before it was due to start. Then three minutes later, the EPW committee sent out a notice that the event had changed locations and would start 20 minutes later. Needless to say, there was much confusion.

Sen. Boxer met in late April with the Orange County Business Council, one of the signers of a letter urging action on the transportation bill. Photo courtesy of the Office of Barbara Boxer.

When she addressed press members who checked their email in time to get there, Boxer distributed two letters from stakeholders urging Congress to pass a bill or risk millions of jobs.

The first one, from the highway lobby (AAA, AASHTO, the asphalt people, the equipment manfacturers, the contractors, the Highway Users Alliance, and, somewhat incongruously, the American Public Transportation Association) referred to the unemployment numbers released Friday:

While the overall unemployment numbers at 8.3 percent are chilling, the construction industry numbers are much worse at 14.2 percent and showing further job losses. I need not remind you that these are high paying American jobs.

We are deeply concerned about reports that suggest that progress is not being made in conference negotiations that will lead to completion of work by June 30th. We urge that serious action be taken immediately and we are prepared to work with all parties to reach a successful outcome.

The second is from 49 chambers of commerce and business councils around the country. It was less direct in calling Congress on its ineffectiveness but it refers to three similar letters the same coalition has sent Congress, starting last August, and to the nine stop-gap extensions that have prolonged the debate and precluded real action. The signers are clearly concerned about the impending deadline and the need to “invest in our infrastructure, advance mobility and save and create jobs.”

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Boxer to Speak to Reporters, Address Cloud Over Conference Committee

Sen. Barbara Boxer is due to speak to reporters in about an hour about the goings-on in the conference committee. The mood has turned dark in the past few days, but she’s kept a positive attitude, saying, “It’s been wonderful.”

Boxer used the anemic jobs report yesterday to underscore the need to pass a bill that, she says, will create or save up to three million jobs. “I hope today’s numbers will lead House Republicans to work with the Senate on a bipartisan approach to fund the transportation bill at current levels, protecting three million jobs and thousands of businesses,” she said yesterday.

The clock is running out and everyone feels the pressure. Boxer has set a deadline of June 7 – two days from today – for the conference committee to pass a bill. That would leave enough time for both houses to vote on it and the president to sign it before the June 30 deadline. But House Republicans say they feel stonewalled on the provisions that are most important to them – “eliminating mandates in the Transportation Enhancement program and using environmental streamlining language that would speed up project delivery,” according to Politico. They say they don’t even know what to expect from the draft bill that’s expected to come out soon.

Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) has introduced is planning to introduce a motion to instruct House conferees not to pass any bill that overspends the revenues to the Highway Trust Fund, bringing the debate back to square one, when the House cut transportation funding by a third and everyone hated it and the bill went nowhere. Broun’s rule would cut $15 million from the Senate bill.

No wonder some are pessimistic about the prospects for a bill. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has been hinting that yet another extension might be necessary.

We’ll have more after Boxer’s comments.

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Clues Hint at Souring Negotiations in Transpo Bill Conference

Politico Pro Transportation put out a news blast today that threw some light into the inky shadows of the conference committee process, and what we saw there doesn’t look too pretty. Apparently Sen. Barbara Boxer has reason to believe negotiations aren’t going so well, “after a House GOP conferee criticized her for ‘stonewalling’ the lower chamber”:

Sen. Barbara Boxer faces increasing resistance from House Republicans, both inside and outside the conference committee. Photo: AP

“We are at a crossroads — the House GOP seems to be moving away from the bill,” she said, according to a source on a conference call she held with industry officials. Boxer noted that “something has happened” recently — things had been going well but she now feels that House leaders aren’t making the bill a priority. “The problem is the leadership over there,” she said.

Before I go any further, it’s worth noting that when the transportation bill was being debated on the Senate floor, Streetsblog (and others) picked up on some pessimistic-sounding comments from Boxer, but she quickly set the record straight and proved us all wrong with a successful 74-22 vote.

This time could be different though. Today This week the House will vote on (and likely pass along party lines) another motion to instruct the conferees, a non-binding resolution that expresses the desires of the full House — or, more accurately, of House leadership. Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have done their own fair share of stonewalling in this reauthorization cycle, refusing to bring the Senate bill to the floor for an up-and-down vote despite repeatedly failing to bring forth an alternative. A vote on the conference committee’s transportation bill doesn’t even appear yet on the Majority Leader’s schedule, which runs all the way through the August recess (more than a month after the June 30 deadline to pass a new bill).

This particular motion, sponsored by Georgia Republican Paul Broun (rhymes with “down”), instructs conferees that transportation spending should not exceed the balance of the Highway Trust Fund.

As a matter of policy, it’s a moot point — by definition, federal surface transportation spending can never surpass HTF balances, though the HTF has been repeatedly topped off from general taxes. Rather, it’s a politically-motivated attack on the Senate bill, which shores up the HTF for the 15-month life of the bill with offsets that will take ten years to fully materialize.

In other words, Broun’s motion is urging House members not to support the Senate bill.

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