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Tea Party and GOP declare war on public transportation with HR 7

Updated on February 9, 2012
Cover to HR 7 plan shows GOP's "vision" for future transportation — highways (left) and pipelines (right).
Cover to HR 7 plan shows GOP's "vision" for future transportation — highways (left) and pipelines (right). | Source

Think you might like to switch to an express bus or train for your commute? Hope maybe your local transit agency might build a new, fast, comfortable rail transit line? Considering taking a trip on Amtrak?

You may be out of luck. All those public transportation services may be left to wither and die without public funding if Tea Party and GOP plans to slash federal public transport funding become reality. And, just for good measure, money to encourage walking and biking, funding pedestrian and bicycle facilities, would be cut, too. All while highway and road construction would be revved up, financed by even more "Drill, Baby, Drill!" money.

The Tea Party-dominated Republican Party, currently controlling the U.S. House of Representatives, appears to be escalating its crusade against public transportation (so far, a series of skirmishes) into a ferocious, take-no-prisoners, all-out war. As an editorial in the New York Times of Thursday, 9 February 2012, points out, the GOP-crafted bill, House Resolution 7 (HR 7), emerging from the House, has been called by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (himself a Republican), the “worst transportation bill” he has encountered in 35 years of involvement in government service.

Less transit, less Amtrak, more highways, more drilling

Matt Sledge, addressing the GOP measure in a Jan. 31st article in Huffington Post, described "the GOP vision for transportation" — "more highways and more toll roads. To pay for it all, there would more offshore drilling."

Here are just a few of the most egregious provisions of HR 7, euphemistically and deceptively named the "American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act":

• HR 7 would eliminate guaranteed funding for mass transportation, turning back three decades of progress, destabilizing urban transit funding and making it far less certain, and more vulnerable to further budget cuts during annual appropriations battles. Since 1982, when the Reagan administration and Congress changed federal transit law, mass transit has been allocated approximately 20% of motor vehicle fuel taxes and other so-called "user fees" in the federal highway trust fund. HR 7 would return to the status prior to that, dedicating all such tax revenue solely to highway and road facilities, and mass transit would be left on its own to scrounge for funding.

• HR 7 would eliminate all dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs. This includes eliminating the Safe Routes to School Program, which installs and improves sidewalks and safer street and highway crossings for schoolkids — transferring such funds into building more highways and street improvements for more motor vehicles, and placing tens of millions of schoolchildren at greater risk of injury or death from traffic.

• HR 7 would open nearly all of the USA's coastal waters to oil and gas drilling (anyone remember the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill disaster?); this includes wetlands and other environmentally highly fragile areas that have long been excluded. The GOP's pretext here is supposedly to generate revenue to try to supplement the growing annual shortfall for transportation financing (raising the fuel tax, unchanged since 1993, is, of course, taboo for the GOP). "But", argues the New York Times, "it is really just one more attempt to promote the Republicans’ drill-now-drill-everywhere agenda and the interests of their industry patrons."

• HR 7 would eradicate significant and important environmental safeguards. It does this, the Times reports, "by imposing arbitrary deadlines on legally mandated environmental reviews of proposed road and highway projects, and by ceding to state highway agencies the authority to decide whether such reviews should occur."

• HR 7 would slash Amtrak's operating subsidy by 25% in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 — a drastic reduction for America's highly popular but financially stressed and sputtering rail passenger system, already suffering from a $64 million budget reduction signed by President Obama under pressure from the GOP. (See Amtrak's on a Roll — Ridership and Revenue Up, Thanksgiving Ridership Hits New Record.)

A "march of horribles"

The outcry against HR 7 has spanned much of the political spectrum, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to organized labor. "The business community has grave concerns about this" said Janet Kavinoky, executive director of transportation and infrastructure for the Chamber of Commerce, quoted in the Wall Street Journal (Feb. 9th). The Chamber expressed fears that the measure could obstruct efforts to pass the entire transportation bill.

Calling the House transportation bill "a march of horribles", columnist Ben Goldman, in a January 30th posting on the Greater Greater Washington website, commented that "the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act looks like a return to 1950s-style transportation policy."


The Sacramento Bee's blunt assessment was that HR 7 "gives public transportation the shaft." Stephen Davis, representing Transportation For America, in a Feb. 9th posting on the Greater Greater Washington website, cited the Bee's editorial for his own judgement that "in a time when people are looking for more options for getting around each day, this bill takes away exactly what more Americans are so desperately seeking." If Tea Party Republican anti-transit crusaders have their way, he argued, "the nation's transportation network will take a giant step backward to a 'roads only' policy for dedicated funding."

Even within the GOP, there's some concern that revenue provisions of the proposed legislation may be fanciful. In his Huffington Post report, Matt Sledge recounts that


Sen. James Inofe (R.-Okla.) suggested in a statement in November that drilling fees, dependent on the stop-and-go whims of oil companies, are a fanciful idea to make up the increasing shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.

"While Speaker [John] Boehner's idea may be a long-term revenue source for transportation infrastructure," Inhofe said, "we need to focus on the immediate problem of how we will fund a multi-year highway bill."

Nevertheless House Republicans, led by Boehner, are pushing ahead.

BP's 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, fire, and oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico illustrates environmental risk of offshore drilling.
BP's 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, fire, and oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico illustrates environmental risk of offshore drilling. | Source

Transportation analyst Yonah Freemark, in a Feb. 6th posting to his nationally respected blog The Transport Politic, provides a more in-depth explanation of the weaknesses in the GOP transportation funding approach:


... House leadership recommended funding any gaps in highway spending not covered by the Trust Fund through a massive expansion in domestic energy production that would destroy thousands of acres of pristine wilderness, do little for decreasing the American reliance on foreign oil, and reaffirm the nation's addiction to carbon-heavy energy sources and ecological devastation. New energy production of this sort is highly speculative in nature and would produce very few revenues in the first years of implementation.


The phantom menace of "Agenda 21"

Lurking in the shadows of suspicious motivation for the Tea Party-GOP animosity toward public transportation are sinister clouds of an elaborate and peculiar mythology over an obscure United Nations measure, passed in 1992 — a series of lofty recommendations for reducing poverty, lowering carbon emissions, and improving cities called Agenda 21. It's virtually guaranteed that 99.99% of the nation's public officials, urban planners, and transportation industry professionals had never heard of Agenda 21, until the Tea Party started using it for the bonfire of a war dance.

Thus, as Yonah Freemark relates,


The Tea Party's zany obsession with the supposed U.N. plot to take over American land use decisions through Agenda 21 seems to have infected GOP House members and even presidential contenders. Michele Bachmann's claim in 2008 that Democrats are attempting to force people onto light rail lines to travel between their housing "tenements" and government jobs may have made it into the mind of Newt Gingrich, who recently made the claim that the "elite" in New York City who ride the subway and live in high-rise condos don't understand "normal" Americans. What kind of language is this?


It's hard to assess which is loonier in all this — the Tea Party's spooky chimera of a phantom threat from Agenda 21; Michele Bachmann's notion that transit riders all live in (lower-income?) "tenements" and commute to "government jobs"; or Newt Gingrich's conception that New York City transit riders are members of an "elite" living in "condos", out of touch with "normal" Americans. In GOP Tea Party land, evidently, if you ride transit or Amtrak, you're somehow "abnormal".

Campaign mounting to stop HR 7

Public transportation advocates are mobilizing in an effort to build opposition to HR 7 and to muster support for crafting a more forward-looking alternative.

"From coast to coast, it's becoming clear that this bill needs to be defeated" writes Transportation For America's Stephen Davis in his commentary. "We're looking forward to working with the House on a better bill, but this is not that bill."

"Join with others, make a phone call, and then spread the word via email and your social networks today if you've already called" he urges. "Use the #HouseTranspoFail hashtag today on Twitter."


Lyndon Henry is a writer, editor, freelance investigative journalist and analyst, and transportation planning consultant. He produces the Writing Perspectives blog:

http://writingperspectives.wordpress.com

Published: 2012/02/09

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    • profile image

      James Lamb 

      6 years ago

      The House Surface Transportation Bill HR 7 called AMERICAN ENERGY & INFRASTRUCTURE JOBS ACT includes a $100,000 broker bond provision, which is designed to put small brokers out of business so that the big brokers can control the market, charge shippers (and ultimately consumers) more and pay owner-operators less. See pp 527-8: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hr7ih/pdf/BI... This act won't create jobs as purported, it will actually ELIMINATE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF JOBS.

      The Association of Independent Property Brokers & Agents ("AIPBA") is calling upon all small and mid-sized brokers to , all your Congressman and tell them to vote no.

      185 people have already signed the petition against the $100k broker bond because it will hurt small brokers and small owner-operators.

      http://www.petitiononline.com/100KBOND/petition.ht...

      Sincerely,

      JAMES P. LAMB, president

      AIPBA

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Well written and informative.... voted up

      John

    • LHwritings profile imageAUTHOR

      Lyndon Henry 

      6 years ago from Central Texas

      Conclusion of responses to Sgt. Bruno's comments...

      =====

      Global warming has already been disproved, and to be a giant hoax on the world not just America, and the very emails from those morons between themselves showed their corrupt cards and their deliberate intent to fraud the world.

      =====

      Global Warming denial has become virtually an article of faith among the Tea Party extremist right, and that seems evident in the comments above, which also exhibits the far right's hallmark disdain for modern science.

      The worldwide scientific community has a solid consensus that Global Warming is real — the upward climb in the earth's average temperature is overwhelmingly documented, as is the evidence that man-made greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are driving this climb. The "scandal" over Emails among several scientists has been thoroughly investigated by the scientific community and determined to be inconsequential and of no significance to the evidentiary consensus on Global Warming.

      For those genuinely interested in good information on this issue, HubPages has a couple of excellent articles:

      • Global Warming,Global Warming Facts, Global Warming Effect and GreenHouse Effect

      http://poetmel.hubpages.com/hub/GLobal-Warming-and...

      • Ways to Stop Global Warming

      https://hubpages.com/politics/Ways-to-Stop-Global-...

      =====

      Because Obama cut off discussion on the Canadian pipeline (which is Idiotic to begin with and only self-serving for this moron we call a president, politically), we will now pay more money for energy. Which means bus and train riders will pay more for their transit.

      =====

      Obama was prepared to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project but retreated from this because of pressure from environmentalists and some politicians, including Republicans.

      First of all, oil and gas energy is inevitably becoming much more expensive because the costs of production and extraction are skyrocketing. Extracting oil from tar sands is expensive, energy-inefficient, and environmentally devastating (especially in the contamination of diminishing water resources).

      Even if such oil is extracted, the resultant gasoline will be far more costly. More energy is consumed in the overall extraction, distribution, and refining processes than is yielded by the product itself.

      Tar sands oil extraction requires vast supplies of water; this water is ultimately contaminated, thus reducing available water supplies for human consumption — a growing problem in North America and worldwide.

      Such oil production is also unsustainable, and scarce resources would be more wisely directed into development of sustainable energy sources, especially electricity, especially through underutilized means such as solar and geothermal development.

      For more information on the Keystone project, there are a couple of excellent HubPages articles:

      • The Keystone XL Pipeline: Facts and Fairytales

      https://soapboxie.com/social-issues/The-Keystone-X...

      • Backlash for Facts About the Keystone XL

      https://hubpages.com/politics/Backlash-for-Facts-A...

      LH

    • LHwritings profile imageAUTHOR

      Lyndon Henry 

      6 years ago from Central Texas

      Sgt. Bruno, thanks for your comments. Nothing like off-the-wall zaniness to spice up a discussion. I've given up any hope of reaching far-right extremists with data, information, or logical reasoning, so my comments in response will be made here for the record.

      =====

      it was democrats who did not want to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Republicans pushed it through despite democrats and once it passed, the dems had to wrap their arms around the black community or fear losing what little control they had

      =====

      I'm neither a Democrat nor a liberal but I do have a disgust for subterfuge and political myth, and a respect for facts and reality. Here's a quick, fact-based history.

      The Civil Rights Act originated with John F. Kennedy (Dem) and other Democrats particularly in response to the growing militancy (and anger) of the civil rights movement and the USA's black population in that era. It was introduced by Rep. Emmanuel Celler (Dem-NY) and subsequently strengthened in the committee process.

      It's true that within the Democratic Party the Dixiecrats (Southern Dems) resisted the act and mounted a filibuster, but this was ended through negotiation led by Senators Everett Dirksen (R-IL), Thomas Kuchel (R-CA), Hubert Humphrey (D-MN), and Mike Mansfield (D-MT) — i.e., bipartisan cooperation, still with Dems leading. One should note that "moderate" Republicans such as Dirksen would today be branded as "socialist" and even "Communist" by the extremists of the GOP; they would probably either move to the extreme right or find a political home in the Democratic Party.

      For more details:

      http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=97

      http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAcivil64.ht...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Act_of_1...

      =====

      ...you said "the tea-party dominated repubican party". Wow. Talk about a HUGE stretch. Dominated to you equals 38 tea party members between both the House and the Senate.

      =====

      Does the Tea Party have a card-carrying membership at all? This is simply more subterfuge with red herrings behind camouflage smoke. The Tea Party is an amorphous movement, created by extremist GOP operatives primarily with funding from powerful far-right corporate interests (such as the Koch petrochemical empire) with several major organized entities, and a sizable political following among a minority of the public. "Tea Party" thus describes more of a loose, ideological affiliation than some kind of solid, formal membership organization.

      From this standpoint, the Tea Party movement has managed to ascend to power and wield dominating control over the GOP — both by directly electing professed adherents, and by exerting substantial influence over GOP Representatives and Senators in various ways (not least, the threat of focusing and bestowing Tea Party support on potential or actual extremist opponents further to the right).

      Through this process, the GOP has not only departed from any dependency on fact-based arguments, but eschews facts, embraces deception and misinformation, and disparages intellectual honesty and capability. The party has moved so far to the right that Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower would be attacked as "socialists" and "Communists" if they were alive and politically active today. In fact, Barack Obama is to the right of both of them in today's crazy political world.

      As for the Dixiecrats, with few exceptions (e.g., Sen. Byrd of WV), they subsequently left the Democratic Party en masse for the GOP, bolstering the Southern wing of the GOP.

      To keep comments from becoming excessively long, I'll address other issues raised by Sgt. Bruno in a subsequent comment.

      LH

    • profile image

      Sgt. Bruno 

      6 years ago

      Sooner28: Talk about losing touch as a party, it was democrats who did not want to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Republicans pushed it through despite democrats and once it passed, the dems had to wrap their arms around the black community or fear losing what little control they had and black America has been held captive ever since. And before you jump on some racial bandwagon, you had better know who I am and who is saying that before you go popping off racial because I will have you for lunch. Global warming has already been disproved, and to be a giant hoax on the world not just America, and the very emails from those morons between themselves showed their corrupt cards and their deliberate intent to fraud the world. All for money. Just look at porky Al Gore. What a pig. And frankly, on the topic of gays, I don't know enough to know if these people truly have no choice, that it is in there "makeup" so to speak. While I don't necessarily believe that is true, I don't factually know it and as such, it doesn't seem right to discuss it one way or another.

      As for you, LHwritings, you said "the tea-party dominated repubican party". Wow. Talk about a HUGE stretch. Dominated to you equals 38 tea party members between both the House and the Senate. Where did you get your facts from, Gloria Allred?

      Because Obama cut off discussion on the Canadian pipeline (which is Idiotic to begin with and only self-serving for this moron we call a president, politically), we will now pay more money for energy. Which means bus and train riders will pay more for their transit.

      Where do you people come from? Under a bridge?

      Your headline is a lie and representative of what liberals are all about. As a conservative, I will call you all out, every step you take.

    • profile image

      Sooner28 

      6 years ago

      Do you expect anything less from people who think the founders "fought tirelessly" to end slavery, that global warming is a hoax, and that being gay is a "choice?" They have lost all touch with reality as a party. I'm waiting for the adult Republicans in the room to please stand up.

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