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Posts from the "Tom Coburn" Category

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Two-Year Transpo Bill Moves on to Full Senate Without Bike/Ped Protections

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted unanimously this morning to pass a two-year transportation reauthorization bill, moving the bill one step closer to passage by the full Senate.

The Senate EPW bill represents a few steps forward and a few steps back. It won't transform America's car-based, oil-dependent transportation system. Photo: Raise the Hammer

Unlike in the House, where the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has full responsibility for the transportation bill, the Senate splits jurisdiction among several committees, so the saga isn’t over yet by a long shot. The Senate Banking Committee still needs to consider the transit part of the bill, Commerce will get its hands dirty on the rail portion, and Finance is going to figure out how to pay for the whole thing.

Non-Motorized Transportation Takes a Hit

Rarely have bike and pedestrian safety been so squarely at the center of a Congressional boxing match as during the debate over this bill. The fight over dedicated funding for bike/ped projects – much of it focused on the Transportation Enhancements program – threatened the delicate bipartisan consensus for this bill. What emerged was a compromise that placated even the most hardened TE haters like Sens. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn.

This morning, Sen. Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking member on the committee and its chief TE opponent, explained the change.

There’s a difference of opinion and philosophy here as to how much money should be spent on things like bike trails, walking trails, highway beautification, museums and all that stuff. I think the compromise we came up with is a very good one because if a state wants to use that percentage – whether it’s 10 percent as it applies to the surface transportation or two percent of the total funding — they can instead put it in areas of unfunded mandates. And I can assure you there are enough unfunded mandates we have to comply with – I’m talking about endangered species, Americans with Disabilities, Historic Preservation and all that — we can use it. In my state of Oklahoma, that’s where we’re going to use ours. I think that is a great solution.

Sen. James Inhofe's home state of Oklahoma is now free to spend all its transportation money on roads.

What Inhofe is calling an “unfunded mandate,” however, is just part of the cost of building a road with federal funds. By allowing Transportation Enhancement money – previously reserved for non-motorized modes – to be used to offload some of the costs of building a highway, the Senate gives a green light to state DOTs to use every penny of that money for road-building expenses, if they want to. And if they don’t even want to do that, after 18 months, they can just opt out of the TE program altogether.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced (and then withdrew) an amendment to restore dedicated funding for bike and pedestrian programs, with support from several other Democratic senators. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) also wants to introduce amendments making it harder for states to “opt out” of the TE program by ensuring that they solicit localities for TE uses before refusing to use the funds. And Sen. Tom Carper withheld his amendment requiring states and MPOs to draft plans for reducing transportation-related oil consumption.

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Boxer Clarifies: Transportation Enhancements Will Remain in the Bill

We reported this morning that there seemed to be some distance between how Sen. Barbara Boxer understands the deal with Sen. Tom Coburn and how Coburn understands it. To clarify, Boxer just issued this statement:

There has been much discussion about plans for the Transportation Enhancements program in the upcoming surface transportation bill.  The Transportation Enhancements program will be included in the EPW Committee’s reauthorization proposal, with more flexibility granted to the states on the use of the funds within the TE program.

We look forward to the day when a bill is introduced, once and for all, and we can stop speculating about what is and what is not in it. Meanwhile, Boxer has been fighting like a mama bear to keep these important programs in the bill, and we salute her for that.

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Last-Minute Deal Preserves Bike/Ped Funding. But For How Long?

UPDATED with comments from Sen. Tom Coburn’s staff.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has relented on his push to strip Transportation Enhancement funding from the six-month surface transportation extension, clearing the way for Senate passage last night and a White House signature today.

Sen. Barbara Boxer says dedicated funding for bike/ped projects is preserved, though Sen. Coburn appears satisfied that Transportation Enhancements is dead. Photo: AP

In exchange for releasing his stranglehold on the Senate (and the estimated 80,000 workers that could lose their jobs, at least temporarily, if the FAA bill lapsed) Coburn will get to insert his language into the long-term bill, when this latest extension expires.

According to CQ Today, Coburn said, “We’ve got an agreement that the next bill will be an opt-out for people on enhancements.” James Inhofe, the top Republican on the EPW committee which wrote the bill, “seems to have played a key role in brokering the deal,” CQ Today reports.

After the vote, Boxer quibbled with Coburn’s description of what will be in the next highway bill. Boxer said she and Inhofe had worked out “reforms” in the transportation enhancements section of the bill and met with Coburn to discuss them before the deal was worked out.

“We felt he would be pleased with the reforms,” she said. “It gives flexibility, without doing damage to the important programs in there.”

Boxer said Coburn made clear that he was “not going to vote for any more extensions” but allowed the current highway funding extension to move forward. “There’s not an opt-out,” she said. “You’ll see what we did. But no, there’s no opt-out. . . . There’s still dedicated funding. It gives more flexibility to the states as to how they will use that funding… It’s flexibility for the states within the transportation enhancements program.”

Clearly, Boxer is in a tight spot, having to placate some of the most conservative members of the Senate while also satisfying the active transportation advocates, in her state and around the country, who have held her feet to the fire on saving dedicated funds for bike/ped programs.

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T4America to Sen. Coburn: Cutting Bike/Ped Won’t Fix Oklahoma’s Problems

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that if Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn insists on holding up legislation to extend the surface transportation and aviation bills, “we will have about 80,000 people out of work by Saturday.”

Three years after a chunk of concrete falling from a bridge killed a woman in Oklahoma, bridges (like this one) continue to crumble in the state. I guess it was because of the $7 million Oklahoma spent that year on bike/ped.

Although SAFETEA-LU doesn’t expire for another two weeks, the FAA reauthorization expires in two days, and Reid said that if Coburn doesn’t change course, “we cannot get to this bill prior to Friday when the FAA expires.”

But it appears Coburn hates Transportation Enhancement programs enough to cause such consequences. “If we’re going to extend the bill,” he said, “then let’s let states use the money to repair bridges and highways, not build scenic and sound walls and make things look nice.”

Coburn and other TE opponents often deride the program as funding “beautification” (about 13 percent of TE funds) and “transportation museums” (1.5 percent). But bicycle and pedestrian programs constitute 57 percent of TE spending – real transportation programs that improve mobility with positive impacts on the environment and public health.

Coburn is unmoved. “We need to let the states decide how they repair the bridges and highways,” he went on. “Instead of doing what we want them to do, we need to let the states do what they want to do.”

Transportation for America has news for Coburn: “Cutting enhancements is not going to fix Oklahoma’s problems. And it’s not the reason their bridges are in such poor shape.”

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Coburn Blocks Quick Senate Vote on Transportation Extension

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has placed a “hold” on the transportation extension, along with a bill to continue sanctions against Burma and to provide disaster relief to areas affected by Hurricane Irene and other storms.

Sen. Tom Coburn. Photo: TPM

When just one senator objects to a “unanimous consent” vote — the quickest way for the body to pass legislation — the leader has to allow for 30 hours of debate. Coburn has an amendment he wants to introduce, and he was concerned that Majority Leader Harry Reid wasn’t going to allow for amendments. Coburn’s action ensures that he will be able to bring his measure to the floor. The amendment, as we have reported, would eliminate the 1.5 percent of federal transportation funds that go to Transportation Enhancements, about half of which is spent on bicycle and pedestrian programs.

Reid isn’t happy about Coburn’s use of the hold to delay important legislation. “It’s a pretty good way to legislate around here, be a dictator and say either take this or leave that,” Reid was quoted as saying in a story by CQ.

In addition to his amendment to strip TE funds, Coburn wants to offer an amendment that would offset the cost of the disaster aid, so that it doesn’t add to the deficit.

As we’ve said, the votes will still go through, just more slowly. And while we at Streetsblog are no experts on the disaster relief bill, we think the odds look good that enough senators will be frustrated with Coburn’s insistence on slowing down the process that they will vote against his push to kill Transportation Enhancements.

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How Dangerous is Sen. Coburn’s Amendment to Kill Bike/Ped Funding?

The 12 programs that make up Transportation Enhancements. Source: National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse

For the last few days, we’ve been talking a lot about Sen. Tom Coburn’s crusade to remove bike/ped funding from the transportation bill — even just from the six-month extension that just passed the House and is on its way to the Senate. He’s determined to insert an amendment to take out the funds.

Ever the gentleman, Coburn had his office contact the Rails-to-Trail Conservancy, a principal supporter of Transportation Enhancement funding, since rail-trails are one of a dozen uses for the funds. Coburn’s office let RTC know that the senator would be introducing an amendment to eliminate TE funding.

Kevin Mills, vice president of policy at RTC, emphasizes that Coburn wants to eliminate the federal mandate to spend certain federal dollars on certain programs. There would no longer be dedicated funding for bike and pedestrian projects, but they would still be eligible for federal money. Without a federal mandate, however, many states hardly spend any money on active transportation at all.

Mills said that Coburn’s office left no doubt that the senator would do whatever it takes to force a vote on TE. Senate leadership is determined to pass a clean extension and wanted, like the House, to have a simple, amendment-free process. If leadership refuses to entertain Coburn’s amendment, many expect that Coburn will filibuster, though his office won’t explicitly say so.

If he does filibuster, all that means is that it’ll take 60 senators to bring the extension bill to a vote (without Coburn’s amendment). Bike advocacy groups are clearly worried about this possibility. But the facts are enough to give us hope.

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House Prepares to Vote on Extension, Coburn Will Try to Kill Bike/Ped

In a couple of hours, the House will vote on the transportation extension bill – under unanimous consent rules. That means a single vote in opposition could delay passage.

Sen. Tom Coburn has an axe to grind with bicycle safety. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s unclear how we went from a House determined to cut spending levels by more than 30 percent to a House unanimously committed to passing a bill with current spending levels. It’s unclear even that this unanimous vote plan will work. Republican party discipline isn’t what it used to be, what with the Tea Party revolt just loving to accuse House Speaker John Boehner of being a tax-and-spend liberal.

However, rumor has it that House Republicans are being told that the extension’s spending levels don’t change the appropriations levels the House is willing to approve, and that’s $27.7 billion for the year for highways and $5.2 billion for transit. So if the extension authorizes $19.8 billion for highways for the first six months and $4.2 billion for transit, that’s fine: It just means that for the whole second half of the year, highways would only get $7.9 billion and transit would only get $800 million. Those are deadly cuts, but it appears that transportation leaders are putting off that fight till later in order to pass an extension now.

Meanwhile, if the extension bill doesn’t pass the House by unanimous consent, the House will need to follow normal rules of order to pass it by majority vote. That means it’ll need to wait a full 72 hours between the posting of the bill and the vote, and that would mean a Wednesday vote. It could also open the door to a messy amendment process.

Speaking of amendments: In the Senate, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn is planning to file an amendment to cut Transportation Enhancements from the six-month extension. It’s good news that he’s doing it as an amendment and not a hold on the bill, since a hold is a unilateral move to force the Senate to utilize a much more time-consuming process to vote on the bill. His amendment will likely fail, since many senators who would normally vote with him to cut bike/ped funding are committed to passing a clean extension, with no amendments.

If Coburn’s amendment does fail, he can lose graciously — or he can try to filibuster. It’s unclear whether he plans to do that. While the House is hoping to have 100 percent support for the bill, insiders fear that in the Senate, the bill could fall short of the 60 percent majority it needs to overcome a filibuster.

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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: 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:
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