By Keith Laing
Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said Wednesday that the proposed surface transportation bill put forward by Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) would destroy jobs, not create them, as industry advocates ardently hope the measure would do.
“The bill is best described as the Republican road to ruin,” ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said in a news conference. “It takes our nation in the wrong direction, backwards instead of forwards. Instead of putting America on a pathway to prosperity, this bill provides the necessary funds for transportation to half the country and tells the other half to wait around for the next time.”
By contrast, the Senate has proposed a two-year, $109 billion bill, which would work out to about $20 billion more per year than the House version.
On Thursday, Democrats called the House sum paltry, though both chambers’ proposals are significantly less than President Obama’s proposal to spend $556 billion on transportation over six years.
“What we have here is fantasy funding,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the House Highways subcommittee.
“The amount of money we’re spending today — which they want to cut — is not enough to maintain the existing system,” he continued. “Even if their fantasy came true, which it won’t, you won’t get near what you need to maintain the existing. And if you want to improve it, you’re talking about $150 billion” per year, he said.
In a news conference of his own, Mica said that he had to spend what the trust fund for highways brings in — about $35 billion a year. But he said Wednesday that federal loan programs could give the bill “a dramatic multiplier effect.”
Republicans on the Transportation Committee touted the “streamlining” of transportation programs in the bill, which Mica said this week would consolidate or eliminate about 70 federal programs.
“I know a lot of folks are focusing on the dollar amount, but don’t understate the streamlining,” said Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
“If we’re able to do what the chairman has laid out, the dollars are going to multiply,” Shuster said.
However, Democrats doubted the bill would get far, saying the GOP proposal was too small to be approved by the Democratically controlled Senate.
“The bill as we have seen so far cannot pass the other body,” Rahall said. “It would result in additional extensions, which is no way to run our transportation system.”
The current short-term extension of the SAFETEA-LU bill is the eighth such measure, and both parties have said they do not want to see any more.
Transportation advocates were more reserved in their response Thursday than Democrats, but they also expressed concerns that Mica’s bill is too small.
“We commend Chairman Mica and his fellow drafters on the push to get this long-stalled bill moving, and we appreciate the effort to consolidate programs, leverage non-federal resources and deliver projects more quickly,” Transportation for America Director James Corless said in a statement. “However, we are skeptical that investments at this level can meet the country’s infrastructure needs.”
The bill spurred rare consensus from the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Both said Mica’s bill would cost the country jobs.
“It is astonishing and unconscionable that the House Republican leadership would push a surface transportation reauthorization bill that would gut current infrastructure investment by a third and obliterate over half a million jobs in the next year alone,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.
Janet Kavinoky, the Chamber’s executive director of transportation and infrastructure, said the funding levels in the bill are “unacceptable.”
“It is clear the committee has been constrained by the House-passed budget, as the investment levels are unacceptable,” Kavinoky said in a statement. “Cuts will destroy — rather than support — existing jobs and will not enable creation of the additional jobs needed to put the 16.3 percent of unemployed workers in the construction industry back to work.”
Trumka and Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s president and CEO, have made joint appearances in recent months to push for increased infrastructure spending.