Does the nation need Congress to quickly finish a surface transportation investment bill that funds the operations and infrastructure of our mass transit systems, highways, bridges, railroads and ports? You bet.
Does H.R.7, the pending House version of this legislation, get us there? Not even close.
Take a look inside of this 979-page behemoth:
It obliterates the Mass Transit Account that has existed for 30 years by delinking it from the Highway Trust Fund and redirecting fuel tax revenues; fails to give local transit systems flexibility in how they spend their money during economic downturns; contains privatization give-aways to foreign corporations that want to take over local public transit operations; fires 2,000 Amtrak food service workers; slashes $308 million from Amtrak operating funds; eliminates safety and health protections for workers handling hazardous materials; delays for a decade or longer mandatory implementation of life-saving railroad collision avoidance technology; forces outsourcing of state DOT engineering jobs, and it even funds part of the program at the expense of federal workers' pensions. Yes, this bill is that bad.
This loaded-down, over-hyped vessel of ideology disguising itself as a transportation jobs bill cannot begin to mask the job cuts it will make and worker safety degradation it will impose.
But don't just take my word for it. Here's what some others have written or stated publicly about the House bill:
1) A Feb. 8 New York Times editorial said:
The list of outrages coming out of the House is long, but the way the Republicans are trying to hijack the $260 billion transportation bill defies belief. This bill is so uniquely terrible that it might not command a majority when it comes to a floor vote [...] But betting on rationality with this crew is always a long shot.
2) In an interview with Politico, DOT Secretary and former GOP House member Ray LaHood stated:
This is the most partisan transportation bill that I have ever seen. And it also is the most anti-safety bill I have ever seen. It hollows out our No. 1 priority, which is safety, and frankly, it hollows out the guts of the transportation efforts that we've been about for the last three years. It's the worst transportation bill I've ever seen during 35 years of public service.
3) The Los Angeles Times wrote that the House bill "is intended simply to pander to the GOP base during an election year [...]Americans are thoroughly sick of a Congress that would rather play political games than solve our country's problems."
Thankfully for working Americans and millions of people and businesses that need a safer and modernized transportation system, sanity is prevailing in the Senate where S.1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), is being debated. The bipartisan support shown for this bill -- demonstrated by an 85-11 vote to consider the bill on the Senate floor -- will help move this legislation to create millions of jobs, jump-start our popular but resource-starved transit and rail systems, expand and repair our surface transportation infrastructure, and ensure a competitive U.S. economy.
Hopefully a deal can be reached to add a robust port and dredging section that boosts longshore and maritime jobs.
As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said on the Senate floor Feb. 9 when referring to Americans who would secure good jobs if Congress does its job: 'We cannot fail these workers.'
Yes we'd much prefer a bill that funds our surface transportation system for more than two years and at much higher funding levels. But the Senate bill does maintain funding at current or slightly better levels and isn't weighed down by controversial measures such as privatization give-aways, safety roll-backs or pay-fors that take $46 billion in hard-earned pension benefits from federal workers. And unlike the pending House version, the Senate bill ensures the sanctity of both mass transit and highway investment programs.
That is a bill Americans will support -- it is a bill the House should pass, not because it sends a message to the GOP party faithful but because it will help millions of commuting Americans get to work, help our businesses hum, and help our unemployed get back to work.