Republicans Slam the Breaks on Transportation Investment

Over on the homepage, Jason Mark has an article on how the transportation bill reauthorization could finally be an opportunity for progressives in Congress to begin tackling climate change. "Transportation accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation’s oil use and about 25 percent of its carbon-dioxide emissions," Jason writes. Shifting funds in the transportation bill away from highway construction and redirecting it toward mass transit might not immediately solve the country's emissions problem, but it would at least give consumers greater options to lower their carbon footprint.

There's only one slight problem: Republicans elected under the Tea Party banner still control half of the legislative branch. Florida Representative John Mica, the chair of the House's Transportation Committee, is set to release the Republicans' plan for the bill on Thursday. Where the Obama administration's six-year plan calls for a $556 billion transportation budget, Mica's measure is expected to be in the range of $215 billion to $230 billion. The majority of transportation funding is derived from the gas tax, and the rate of that tax has not gone up since 1993. Republicans in the House are unlikely to raise it to meet the current needs of the country.

As Jason detailed in his article, the transportation bill has typically been one of the few kumbaya moments when members of Congress reach across the aisle to hold hands. All members love getting tangible projects in their home districts they can highlight when they are up for re-election. Republicans and Democrats equally face the wrath of voters when roads are bumpy and trains run infrequently. But now that deficit talk fully consumes Washington, those Tea Party Republicans feel required to turn their bulldozer on the transportation bill.

For the same reason the bill typically garners bipartisan accolades, a smaller transportation budget will likely direct most of the money to repairing existing infrastructure rather than investing in the mass-transit options progressives would prefer. Sure, members love to highlight projects that break ground, but there is a bias toward keeping voters satisfied with the status quo. If the final reauthorization is closer to Mica's vision rather than Obama's, those limited funds will get directed to filling potholes rather than laying the tracks for high-speed rail.

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