FOXX: ‘TO HELL WITH THE POLITICS’ – Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will be on “Morning Joe” today bright and early (sources say tune in around 6:40 a.m.) and if his comments on Capitol Hill on Wednesday are any indication, he’s must-see TV. If you weren’t able to catch Foxx’s testimony during the midweek Senate EPW hearing, here’s the key takeaway: the DOT chief isn’t holding back. “To hell with the politics,” he said, urging lawmakers to put aside their differences and reach agreement on a long-term bill. Foxx also told the committee that the administration plans to introduce a “new and improved” version of its long-term transportation bill to send to Congress this year. Last year, the administration’s four-year, $302 billion proposal went nowhere on the Hill. But the idea of funding a long-term bill with tax reform continues to look like a potential point of agreement between the White House and the GOP-controlled Congress.
Coach Foxx, Team Transpo: Sounding like a no-nonsense football coach trying to lead his lovable band of misfits to an unlikely victory in the Highway Trust Fund Super Bowl, Foxx told lawmakers now is the time to stop making excuses and dream big. “I’m a little worried that the concern about the funding may be focused a little more on trying to replenish the Highway Trust Fund as a measure of success,’ he told reporters after the hearing. Foxx made clear he expects results and has high hopes. ‘The excuses that have led us to 32 short-term measures over the last six years, they have to stop,’ he said. ‘What I’m encouraged by is that on a bipartisan basis, you have folks that know we’ve got to do something and they want to figure this out and my job is to help them.’
Other key takeaways:
-Inhofe on repatriation: EPW Chairman Jim Inhofe won’t commit to a specific timeline for getting the bill through committee but did say he thinks repatriation “could be a player” as Congress searches for a funding source. ‘Barbara likes it,’ he said, referring to EPW ranking member Barbara Boxer. She is working with Sen. Rand Paul on a bill that would use revenue from repatriation to shore up the Highway Trust Fund. Aides say they are hammering out last-minute details and nearing a deal on the bill, which could be introduced this week.
-Vitter cuts to the chase: Not one to mince words, Sen. David Vitter said there are three ways to fix the Highway Trust Fund: a gas tax hike paired with a tax cut of some other type, repatriation or additional domestic energy production. Vitter, who is chairman of EPW’s T&I panel, said his own political judgment indicated a hike in the 18.4 cents per gallon fuel tax could pass ‘if paired with a lower-middle class and middle-class tax cut’ to offset the costs for consumers.
-Just say no: But a coalition of 50 conservative groups might not be so happy with the Louisiana lawmaker’s thinking. The groups – which include some heavy hitters of the conservative world like Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform and the Club for Growth – sent a letter Wednesday letting Congress know they are unequivocally opposed to a gas tax hike. Read it: http://bit.ly/1BxELYB
A LITTLE LESS TALK … A lot of lawmakers (see above) and the administration have floated the idea of using revenue from tax changes to shore up the Highway Trust Fund, but Rep. John Delaney is the first to take a concrete step in that direction. He proposed a bill Wednesday that would use revenue from a one-time tax on U.S. companies’ earnings overseas to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund for six years and set the framework for an international tax overhaul. The Maryland lawmaker said his bill should be a real contender because it provides a lot for both sides to love and a little for both sides to dislike, which he deems a good thing. “I used to say in business, the best business deals are one where everyone feels a little bad when they’re done,” he said. “There’s no question that there’s something in our bill that everyone can feel a little bad about but in general, I think it’s a bill that satisfies what each party really cares about.”
HAPPENING THIS MORNING: The Senate Commerce surface transportation subcommittee kicks off a hearing on how to improve the transportation network. Newly installed panel Chairwoman Deb Fischer will lead the hearing, with leaders from Werner Enterprises, Union Pacific and Cabela’s, along with Building America’s Future Co-Chairman Ed Rendell, set to testify.
GM WON’T EXTEND VICTIM FUND DEADLINE: Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey are again asking GM to extend the deadline for its victim compensation fund, but the automaker has rejected that idea, saying it’s sticking to the Jan. 31 cutoff date. The two senators sent a letter to GM on Wednesday requesting the automaker at least allow people to file claims until a federal investigation and other legal issues related to the deadly ignition switch recall are resolved. The company has moved the deadline once – from Dec. 31 – after lawmakers complained that not all victims were notified of their connection to the recall. But a GM spokesman said the company isn’t planning another extension. “Our goal is to be just and timely in compensating the families who lost loved ones and those who suffered physical injury,” GM spokesman James Cain said in a statement. “We previously extended the deadline until Jan. 31, and we do not plan another extension.” At least 50 people have been killed as a result of the faulty ignition switches.
CARS ARE GETTING SAFER: With 2014 being a record year for auto recalls, it may be hard to believe that cars are actually getting safer to drive but that’s exactly what’s happening, according to a study out today from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. During the years studied, from 2009-2012, there were no driver deaths in nine different kinds of vehicles, ranging from the Audi A4 to the Honda Odyssey minivan. Several small cars had high rates of driver deaths, with the Kia Rio topping the list. See the report: http://politico.pro/1zD53Lo
DRONE MAKER TO BAN D.C. FLIGHTS AFTER CRASH: DJI, the maker of the drone that crash landed onto the White House lawn Monday, said it is taking steps to implement a “no-fly zone” around Washington. Soon, the drone maker will release a product update to prohibit flights in Washington and within a 15.5 mile radius in all directions, the company said Wednesday. The Washington-based prohibition is part of a broader company plan to prevent flight near airports and other restricted locations and had been in the works for a while, according to DJI spokesman Michael Perry. “We will continue cooperating with regulators and lawmakers to ensure the skies stay safe and open for innovation,” Perry said.
“No drone zone”: Speaking of places where you can’t fly your drone, the FAA is out with a new campaign telling people not to even think of getting that unmanned vehicle near this weekend’s Super Bowl in Phoenix. There’s even a 15-second video reminding fans to “leave your drone at home.” Watch it: http://bit.ly/1CAuImV
WHERE ARE THOSE OIL TRAIN REGS? Sen. Maria Cantwell used a midweek hearing on freight rail to express her discontent with DOT seemingly dragging its feet on releasing new regulations for oil train tank cars. “My viewpoint on the rail car issue is that we should go faster. The administration should get those new recommendations implemented,” Cantwell said at a Senate Commerce hearing Wednesday. Several lawmakers have blasted DOT recently after federal officials missed a statutory Jan. 15 deadline set by Congress to release the rules. In the latest rulemaking report, DOT set the release date for mid-May, about 1.5 months later than the end-of-March deadline the department had originally set for finalizing the regulations.
THE AUTOBAHN (SPEED READ):
-Old port city has new role after AirAsia tragedy. The New York Times: http://nyti.ms/1wCkagi
-Will low gas prices siphon away transit riders? The Wall Street Journal: http://on.wsj.com/1zEnYFC
-Here’s what happens when you go into “insane” mode while driving your Tesla. Slate: http://slate.me/1z3M3DZ
-Is the Waze traffic app a danger to cops if law enforcement is already revealing own locations on social media? The L.A. Times: http://lat.ms/1wChQ9d
-High time in the Mile High City? Well at least not at the Denver airport, which is banning pot-themed souvenirs. USA Today: http://usat.ly/1ze8BjQ
–“Uber Is Hoping Cute Puppies Will Convince Everyone It’s Not Evil.” Time: http://ti.me/1z4P3jr
-Boeing to replace Air Force One. POLITICO: http://politi.co/1EQu6cy
THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 122 days and DOT appropriations run out in 244 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 244 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 649 days.
All right team, let’s get back together Friday morning.
** According to a statement by the U.S. Treasury, the automobile industry is creating and impacting jobs at the fastest pace in 15 years. In fact, more than 500,000 direct jobs have been created since the industry’s restructuring in 2009.
Paced by strong sales, manufacturers are also reinvesting in their North American operations. Higher productivity in the U.S. workforce and intensive use of automated manufacturing methods has reduced the importance of labor cost when choosing to produce vehicles domestically or abroad, while other factors such as freight and energy costs have become more important. Learn more about how the automotive industry is moving the American economy forward: http://politi.co/1yN4GMj **Tags: Bay Area, California, transportation