The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is one of the few panels whose work touches every congressional district. In the next 18 months, the committee will tackle an ambitious slate of legislation covering highways, waterways, and passenger rail. And although the new chairman has ushered in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation, the committee faces a lack of money, resources, and tools unlike anything Congress has seen in decades. In its latest special issue, National Journal Daily goes inside the committee to see how Chairman Bill Shuster will handle it.
New Chairman, New Logo, Same Problems
Chairman Bill Shuster wanted to start off his tenure on a different note, reaching out to Democrats on the Transportation Committee. And lawmakers in both parties say the effort seems to be working. Staff members are in regular contact about pending legislation and Shuster talks to his counterpart, ranking member Nick Rahall, almost daily when Congress is in session. Yet while these are welcome developments, it will take more than camaraderie to meet the challenges facing the committee.
Shuster: Working on the Charm Offensive
When Bill Shuster took the gavel at House Transportation in January, he was following in his father's footsteps. But unlike the 1990s, the younger Shuster is governing the committee in an era when little federal cash is available to play with and a chairman has no ability to exert influence by authorizing special projects for lawmakers. "In the past, it was more of a power game," said Shuster, who was once a car salesman. "Now it's more of a finesse game." And he appears to be good at it. Bonus: Meet the 16 people closest to Shuster.
Rahall: Fighting for Resources
Nick Rahall knew exactly what he wanted to do when West Virginia sent him to Washington in 1976: help his state take advantage of its bounty of natural resources and get the assistance it needs for building infrastructure in its mountainous terrain. Almost four decades later, he is still on that path.
Shhh. Republicans Are Defending Earmarks.
Republicans on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are starting to quietly defend earmarks, three years after Congress banned the practice because members said it wasted taxpayer dollars during a time of trillion-dollar deficits.
When Lobbying for Infrastructure, Even Unity Isn't Enough
It's not every day that you'll find the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO agreeing completely on an issue. But in 2011, there they were, chamber President Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, testifying before a Senate committee in favor of a new surface-transportation bill. Indeed, in this field, it's not uncommon to find opposite sides of K Street agreeing on the need to spend money on infrastructure—and that's not always enough.
What to Do With the Highway Trust Fund
Any discussion of the surface-transportation bill in recent years has focused on the Highway Trust Fund, and that dynamic shows no sign of changing anytime soon. The 2012 highway bill was a two-year compromise—highway legislation usually covers five years—passed amid political tumult to prevent the job losses and other problems caused when projects grind to a halt. Now, lawmakers are starting to look to the next bill—and the challenges are again mounting.
What's the Future of Amtrak?
Lawmakers and transportation-policy experts say the upcoming months could be pivotal for America's passenger-rail system, with the five-year Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act expiring in September. Many lawmakers note that Amtrak has set ridership records in nine of the past 10 years. But Washington's deficit hawks want to reduce or eliminate subsidies to passenger rail.
Bipartisanship Propels Waterway Bill Forward
The last time Congress passed legislation maintaining its waterways, the tea party didn't exist, nearly half of the current House members weren't in office, and earmarks were alive and thriving. Today, the tea-party faction of the Republican Party is often driving the House GOP's agenda, new members are still learning their way around the Capitol, and earmarks are dead. Any one of those factors alone would present a challenge to reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act.
Public Transit Continues to Stumble
The number of miles drivers log on the road has declined over the last decade. Additional highway lanes have failed to relieve congestion. Evidence is mounting that public transit can boost economic growth and relieve population pressures. Yet many transportation experts complain that federal policies in Congress continue to favor building highways, and that public transit is as beleaguered as ever.
Flying Around the Sequester
After five years and 23 temporary funding measures, air-travel associations hailed the stability that accompanied passage of the 2012 Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill. With $63.4 billion under its belt for the next four years, the FAA could continue work on major projects. It would have been full-speed ahead—had the FAA's budget not gotten caught up in the sequester cuts.
For staff profiles, committee statistics and more, see National Journal Daily's Special Issue online.
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