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Posts from the "Paul Ryan" Category

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Finally, the Presidential Race Turns to Transportation

The Obama campaign has fired the opening salvo in a new presidential campaign front: transportation.

Mitt Romney may be President Obama's opponent in the race for the White House, but VP pick Paul Ryan is the real target of a new ad on transportation. Photo: ZUMA Press

The campaign released seven radio ads in key swing states, each playing to major concerns of voters in those states. The ad now on the airwaves in Virginia focuses on the differences between the two tickets on infrastructure spending. Here’s how Politico describes the ad:

The 60-second radio bit imitates a local traffic report and targets congested routes oft-cursed by northern Virginians: Interstates 395 and 66. The area is part of the sprawling D.C. region and consistently rated as having some of the nation’s worst traffic.

“Could things get any worse?” the faux anchor asks of another broadcaster, who replies, “Paul Ryan put forward a budget plan that slashes investments in road and infrastructure projects.” The two then agree that the Ryan’s “budget plan devastates infrastructure and roads projects.”

The ad also highlights the House Budget chairman’s opposition to “bridge repair and safety bills,” referring to votes against a bridge repair bill written in the aftermath of the 2007 I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the 2009 stimulus package and a 2011 appropriations bill written by Democrats.

The ad ends by saying that Romney’s pick of Ryan sends a message:

“Mitt Romney doesn’t understand northern Virginia.”

Given that nearly 40 percent of radio listeners are in their cars at any given time, this radio ad is likely to hit people at the time they can most relate to the message. But they should note – and the president’s policies do reflect this – that the cure for morning rush hour on 395 isn’t just a faster-moving road for them to drive on.

After all, parts of Northern Virginia are leaders in congestion mitigation solutions that don’t involve mindless road widening schemes. The region is served by the second-busiest rail transit system in the country, and even suburban areas have built high-density development around transit stations. Arlington, Virginia was a pioneering host of Capital Bikeshare, with Alexandria now deciding they want in on the action.

Support for these types of innovative programs is the real difference between President Obama and the Romney/Ryan ticket.

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GOP Budget Would Cut Transpo to the Bone

Wednesday night, the House Budget Committee narrowly passed — by one vote — the 2013 federal budget proposed by chairman Paul Ryan. It calls for all kinds of spending cuts, casts aside the bargains struck during last year’s budget debacle, and asserts that by 2050, all federal spending outside of entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid) should only equal 4 percent of America’s GDP. For comparison, most peer nations spend around 5 percent of GDP on infrastructure alone.

Rep. Paul Ryan's budget would see transportation spending dwindle, leaving a gap that states haven't been able to fill by themselves. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP via CS Monitor

Just to be clear, the budget is separate from the two-year transportation bill passed by the Senate two weeks ago, the House’s five-year drill-and-drive bill, and the 90-day extension of transportation programs introduced yesterday. Think of it as the national wish list, a policy statement that tries to set a tone for subsequent spending bills.

Compared to President Obama’s transportation plan, which Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been defending for the past month, the House GOP plan would essentially cut transportation spending by 25 percent. The Ryan document singles out high-speed rail for criticism, saying its job creation potential has been exaggerated.

In making the case for his budget plans, Obama has emphasized the word “investment,” especially when it comes to transportation infrastructure. The president has asked for a six-year, $476 bilion transportation program, including a $50 billion injection available for projects immediately.

The House GOP’s plan undercuts the President’s by 25 percent on transportation, which would force state and local governments to pick up the slack, or else.

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Mica, GOP Leadership Looking to Raise Transportation Spending Levels in Bill

According to yet another great report from Jeff Davis at Transportation Weekly, House Republican leadership has given House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica permission to seek additional revenues to fund the transportation reauthorization at levels $15 billion higher than initially proposed.

John Mica is conspiring with top GOP leadership to lift transportation funding levels above those outlined in April by Budget Chair Paul Ryan. Photo: Christian Science Monitor.

One Republican source, quoted in Transportation Weekly, said that given the persistently high unemployment rates, the surface transportation bill may become the centerpiece of Republicans’ alternative agenda to the president’s proposed jobs bill.

The House reauthorization bill, introduced by Mica in July, followed the budget plan outlined in April by Rep. Paul Ryan, setting transportation spending at the level expected to come in through Highway Trust Fund revenues over the next six years. Transportation officials, advocates, and Democrats have decried those numbers as spelling starvation for the transportation program, especially for many innovative programs that have been introduced over the last few years.

The appropriations committee followed suit a few week ago, approving spending at those low levels. But by then, Republican leadership was reportedly having second thoughts. Jeff Davis writes:

House Republican leaders privately tried to dissuade the Appropriations Committee from moving a 2012 spending bill with the lower Trust Fund spending numbers, but it would have been awkward for the Speaker or Majority Leader to publicly criticize a Republican committee chairman for writing a bill at the budget level that 235 Republican House members voted for five months previously.

Sources say Mica and Republican leadership are seeking about $15 billion a year in additional revenues, providing a very significant boost to the spending outlined in the reauthorization proposal Mica released in July:

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What The Debt Ceiling Vote Means For Transportation

Yesterday, the House of Representatives took a “symbolic” vote on raising the debt ceiling without any “strings attached” – i.e., the trillion dollars worth of spending cuts the Republicans are insisting on before they’ll agree to raise the debt ceiling.

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters today that the bipartisan negotiations on budget cuts as a precursor to raising the debt ceiling were "frank" and "productive." Photo: AP

The vote went how it was supposed to go: not a single Republican voted for the bill, and Democrats split almost down the middle on it.

It makes perfect sense for Congress to ask for some guarantee of future fiscal discipline when they’re being asked to allow the U.S. to go deeper into debt. Interest alone on that debt cost $414 billion last year. But the spending cuts the Republicans are demanding could be far more painful than the last round.

Rep. Paul Ryan, Vice President Joe Biden and other big figures in the debt ceiling debate aren’t talking a lot about transportation, but that doesn’t mean the sector doesn’t have a significant stake in the outcome. Transportation will be dramatically affected both by the debt ceiling itself and the strings-attached spending cuts.

First, the Debt Ceiling

Everyone pretty much agrees that the debt ceiling needs to be lifted. If it’s not, the U.S. will default on its debts and worldwide financial pandemonium will ensue. But does it make sense to keep deficit spending, particularly on transportation?

That’s what we’ve been doing, after all. As the Highway Trust Fund balance drops, the U.S. keeps spending more on transportation than it brings in. As Streetsblog has been saying throughout the reauthorization debate, we can either raise new revenue (most likely by raising the gas tax), we can lower spending to levels that would starve our transportation agencies, or we can take money from the already-stretched general fund.

In order to keep repairing our bridges and running transit services, Congress has given the Highway Trust Fund a series of infusions from the general fund – basically, deficit spending. That can’t continue if we don’t raise the debt ceiling.

Of course, we don’t want it to continue. Transportation agencies should be more accountable for the money they spend and should have to prove that the projects they fund are achieving the goals that were established. That’ll help. But we’ll still need to spend more for transportation than we have right now.

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