Republicans Line Up to Oppose Obama’s Transportation Proposal

The critical multi-year transportation bill, which lawmakers have sidelined since last summer as they’ve quarreled about how to pay for it, looks to be back on the agenda after President Obama’s pugnacious Labor Day speech, in which he called on Congress to ramp up investment in transportation. The broad outline of Obama’s plan calls for rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads, constructing 4,000 miles of rail, and rehabilitating 150 miles of runway over the next six years.

Florida GOP representative John Mica
Florida GOP representative John Mica ## a long-term transportation bill in 2009##, but quickly came out against the President's infrastructure plan this week. Photo: ## America##

While that may look like a lot of road spending compared to rail, transportation reformers see cause for optimism in the use of the word “rebuild” — which implies that the emphasis will be on fixing existing roads instead of constructing sprawl-inducing new highways. The outline also calls for “significant new funding” for the creation of new transit projects, and for ramping up investment in “safety, environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, and livability.” Those criteria have all been hallmarks of the US DOT’s TIGER program, which distributes competitive grants to local transportation agencies from what has been a relatively small pot of money.

Congress typically authorizes a major transportation spending bill every six years, but political gridlock over raising the gas tax or securing other funding streams has stalled the reauthorization of the bill since it expired in 2009. In the interim, lawmakers have passed a series of stopgap spending measures to keep the transportation system functioning, even as Jim Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has lobbied hard for Congress to take up the full bill.

Monday’s proposal represents the first serious effort from the President to tackle America’s transportation policy inertia, which is preventing any significant progress from the highway-oriented status quo. Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, are undoubtedly eager to pass a bill that will show voters they’re doing as much as possible to address high unemployment, which is making a Republican rout in the mid-term elections look increasingly likely.

Predictably, the GOP does not look willing to lend a hand. Republicans have already lined up against Obama’s proposal, and another protracted and nasty fight over a major White House initiative looks likely. Immediately after the announcement, House Minority Leader John Boehner released a statement opposing the plan, and on Tuesday he released another one calling the plan an “exercise in futility.”

Meanwhile, House GOP Whip Eric Cantor called the White House effort “another play called from the same failed Keynesian playbook.”

For a sign of how lockstep the opposition has quickly become, the real bellwether is John Mica, an influential Florida Republican who has supported infrastructure spending in the past. Mica has also heaped scorn on the President’s plan. “I don’t know what planet these people have been living on for the last 18 months,” he told The Hill. “They hijacked the $862 billion so-called stimulus, leaving less than 7 percent in the bill for infrastructure, and they failed to ensure that even this small percentage of funds would be spent expeditiously.”

The contorted argument seems to be that because the stimulus bill didn’t devote enough spending to transportation, or get it out the door fast enough, a bill devoted entirely to transportation spending and focused on a quick jolt of $50 billion doesn’t deserve support.

In the likely event that Republicans take control of the House in the mid-terms, Mica is the GOP representative who would replace Oberstar as chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

9 thoughts on Republicans Line Up to Oppose Obama’s Transportation Proposal

  1. Wait, the republicans are in immediate opposition to a proposal by a democratic president two months before a midterm election? The substance of the bill is completely irrelevant.

  2. Voter: “I want to drive a car everywhere and not pay taxes!”

    European Politician: “While that may sound nice in theory, that’s simply not how the world works. So either pay the taxes necessary to mitigate the social and economic consequences of driving a car, or get on the train like everyone else.”

    American Politician: “You’re damn right you should be able to drive a car everywhere and not pay taxes! And when next November comes around, remember who to vote for!”

  3. Is Mica necessarily wrong in his statement? I have yet to read or recognize a $900 billion dollar tangible improvement in this country’s life, infrastructure or future as a result of the last so-called stimulus.

    The intuitive sense that this is chasing good money after bad is powerful here — I’m waiting to hear about the actual sausage-making as this bill takes shape.

  4. This is absolutely fustrating. Most of the younger generation realizes we need alternatives. Yet the politicians will keep us stuck in the 20th century. I will be paying for their mistakes. Republicans playing partisan politics in this case is ridiculous. This is infrastructure spending and will help rebuild our infrastructure. They continue to complain no matter what. They say there will be a huge takeover, I only see a few seats turned over.

  5. I have yet to read or recognize a $900 billion dollar tangible improvement in this country’s life, infrastructure or future as a result of the last so-called stimulus.

    You got about $400 directly back from the IRS, in case you didn’t notice.

    Although personally, I would rather have seen whether $900B would build every justifiable HSR corridor.

  6. The relative pittance given to infrastructure through ARRA was intended to win over Republicans who wanted the stimulus to be all tax breaks. We have since learned that the tax breaks did zilch for the economy while the highway and transit funding created thousands of jobs. Now the Republicans want to cut infrastructure spending and extend tax breaks in order to create jobs. Where is the logic in that platform?

  7. An important aspect not to be overlooked is buried in the NY Times article.

    “The White House is proposing to offset the $50 billion by eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for the oil and gas industry.”

    Eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for the oil and gas industry may be the most important feature of this entire proposal. It’s estimated that oil and gas companies receive between $15 and $35 billion a year from US taxpayers. If these tax breaks and subsidies were eliminated, the cost of gasoline would begin to reflect its real price and other transportation options would begin to become more valuable and viable. Though we may not have the political will to implement a gasoline tax that reflects the pollution incurred by the burning of the fuel or even begins to pay for our roads, at least the US taxpayer shouldn’t be subsidizing the stuff.

    “The petroleum industry ‘probably has larger tax incentives relative to its size than any other industry in the country”, according to Donald Lubick, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s former Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy.”

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