Transportation News for January 21, 2015

  • by BPC Staff
  • on January 21, 2015

Politico Morning Transportation: Infrastructure talk lacking at State of the Union — Hatch not too hot on repatriation for transportation — Lawmaker briefing today on Metro accident

By Heather Caygle, with help from Kevin Robillard

LET’S GIVE ‘EM SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT: President Barack Obama was greeted by a sea of lawmakers in the House chamber last night, including a bolstered GOP majority, as he delivered his sixth State of the Union address. And while the president used the platform to talk about everything from climate change to civil rights, transportation advocates hoping Obama would propose broad, new infrastructure ideas in his speech probably felt like they ran into a roadblock Tuesday night. While the president did talk about the need to rebuild infrastructure, he mostly just reiterated already announced administration ideas for doing so.

Obama repeatedly alluded to the Grow America Act, the administration’s plan to use tax reform to fund a four-year surface transportation bill that was rolled out last year but mostly ignored by Congress. The commander in chief also managed to take a jab at the Keystone pipeline approval bill currently pending before the Senate, saying Congress should have broader aspirations: “21st-century businesses need 21st-century infrastructure – modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this. So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come,” he said.

Lawmaker reaction: MT caught up with a couple of lawmakers after the big speech and reaction was as you’d expect – Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, who oversees the House T&I railroads panel, said he wanted to hear much more from the president on transportation. And Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, ranking member on EPW’s transportation panel, said even if the president proposed sweeping infrastructure changes, it’s unlikely certain lawmakers would’ve rallied behind the idea, adding it’s up to Congress to really make things happen. More:

Denham: “I was certainly surprised. We have a lot on our plate, everything from rail to FAA and the big job of highways, so yeah, I would’ve expected to see more,” the California lawmaker told MT.

Carper: “I think the ball is in our court. And in some ways, this place is so cynical that if the president came out and favored one proposal or the other to fund transportation programs, that would be used against him,” he said. “The clock is ticking. And I think most everybody in the House and Senate knows that by the end of May, we run out of money. And if we don’t do something, hopefully something smart, we’re going to run out of money.”

Foxx missing in action: One person who wasn’t at last night’s State of the Union? Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who was selected by the White House as the “designated survivor” in case of disaster. Foxx, normally 13th in line for the presidency, would have assumed the nation’s highest office and provided continuity of government if such a tragedy struck. Foxx’s absence didn’t garner the same level of attention as last year’s “designated survivor,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, which included a slew of commentary on Moniz’s elaborate coif (For a refreshed on the “Hair Apparent”

HATCH NOT TOO HOT ON REPATRIATION: Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch thinks there are a lot of ways to solve the Highway Trust Fund crisis, but he’s not too excited about the idea of using repatriation to do so, a proposal endorsed by a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers and Obama. “There’s not that much money that comes from repatriation and secondly, it’s not the way to do it. I’m basically opposed to that,” Hatch told MT. The Utah lawmaker did say he’s aware of the time constraint to shore up the Highway Trust Fund – “We don’t have a lot of time, not much beyond March” – and that the committee is already hard at work trying to find the nearly $100 billion in additional revenue that’s needed for a long-term highway bill. “We’re working on it as we speak. We’re looking for the right kind of financing for it,” he said. “I want to do everything I can to get that resolved. But I’d like it resolved in the right way so it’s a multi-year thing rather than every six months or so.”

And what about the gas tax? The gas tax gained new life earlier this month after a trio of influential GOP senators – Hatch included – left the door open to hiking the 18.4 cents per gallon tax. But then that door appeared to be slammed shut by Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan at the Republican retreat last week, when he flatly ruled out a gas tax increase. Hatch told reporters Tuesday any idea of a gas tax hike now seems “pretty well gone.” “The House isn’t going to vote for it,” he said. “Some people think it’s a logical thing. It’s a use tax – user fee – but unfortunately, it does hit a lot of low-income people who need their cars to get to work and so forth.”

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