A Lost Opportunity to Influence the Debate

Posted by Ken Orski on Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Innovation NewsBriefs
Vol. 23, No. 7

The President’s FY 2013 budget submission offered the Administration a rare opportunity to rise above partisanship and influence the ongoing  transportation reauthorization debate in a positive way.  It  provided a chance for the White House and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to assume a constructive role in mediating what could turn out to be a  difficult and protracted process of reconciling the differences in the House and Senate versions of the transportation bill.     
Regretfully, the Administration has proved itself unequal to the challenge.
What we got instead is partisan invective from Secretary LaHood (“It’s a lousy bill…the worst bill in decades…it takes us back to the dark ages…”), and a politically inspired  proposal from the White House for a six-year $476 billion surface transportation program that even congressional Democrats have declared as  dead on arrival.
The Administration’s reauthorization proposal –part of its FY 2013 budget submission — is a warmed over version of its FY 2012 transportation package  that had been soundly rejected  both by  the Republican House and  the Democratic-controlled Senate last year. To partially pay for the new  program the Administration has proposed to use $231 billion in “savings” achieved from “reduced Overseas Contingency Operations”—  bureaucratic jargon for  ending military operations in Iraq and Afganistan. Such offsets have been dismissed as accounting gimmicks by Republicans and Democrats alike.  

Proposing annual funding levels for transportation that are 40 percent higher than the current spending levels (as well as the levels proposed in the House and Senate reauthorization bills) and offering to fund the bill in a cavalier manner is hardly a way to establish credibility in the ongoing reauthorization debate.   As Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) recently remarked, “Whenever the President gets involved in transportation infrastructure, he turns it into a partisan, political issue.”   The White House latest  reauthorization proposal and Secretary LaHoods’s intemperate remarks have been no exception.

C. Kenneth Orski is a public policy consultant and former principal of the Urban Mobility Corporation. He has worked professionally in the field of transportation for over 30 years, in both the public and private sector. He is editor and publisher of Innovation NewsBriefs, now in its 22nd year of publication.

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