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Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008 -- Continued

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENTS OF TRANSPORTATION, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008--Continued -- (Senate - September 11, 2007)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

AMENDMENT NO. 2810

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, we are going to be voting on an amendment very soon, amendment No. 2810. The whole point of this amendment is to reorder our priorities in terms of transportation. We have had significant debate on whether certain ongoing projects will be harmed.

We have seen a Department of Transportation inspector general's report that lists five problems with what is happening right now. Basically, the conclusion of the report is earmarks are not the most effective or efficient use of funds--noncompetitively awarded transportation earmarks.

Let me say that again. Noncompetitively awarded transportation earmarks reduce funding for each individual State's core transportation funding. They are not in unison with DOT strategic research goals. As a matter of fact, the research institute has oftentimes gone around with earmarks. They provide funds for projects that would otherwise be ineligible for transportation funds. They disrupt the agency's ability to fund programs as designated when authorized funding amounts are exceeded by what they call overearmarking. That is the technique where we put in an earmark, congressionally directed spending, but we do not put enough money in to pay for that congressional spending, so that excess money goes against the rest of the transportation priorities. Then, finally, many low priority earmarked projects are being funded over higher priority nonearmarked projects.

This is a simple amendment that says we are not going to spend money on earmarks unless they are for roads and bridges at this time. It does not stop earmarks; it just slows them down and says: Whoa. This is a lower priority than what we are doing.

In this bill are over 500 earmarks that come right now to $2.8 billion. Mr.
President, $2.8 billion would go a long way in terms of fixing the tremendous number of bridges that are structurally deficient in this country. That is just with the National Highway System. That does not have anything to do with State transportation highways.

The real question for this body--and there have been many claims made against this amendment. No. 1, this amendment will not lessen the amount of money that goes to State transportation departments. That money can be rerouted so certain things such as transit initiatives will not have to stop. But what it will say is, the Senate is on record for saying the highest priority ought to have the highest priority.

Minnesota is a tragic example of the misplaced priorities we have. Of the billions and billions of dollars, well over 10 percent of the last Transportation bill--authorization bill--and a significant amount of this bill will be spent on projects that are not a priority for a State, are not a priority for national transportation, but are our priorities. We can differ on what the low level priorities are, but nobody can deny we have a significant problem with structurally deficient bridges in this country.

We are going to spend $600,000 on horse-riding facilities, $5.9 million on a snowmobile trail, $8 million on a parking garage, $532,000 just on one particular earmark for a pedestrian trail, $1.25 million for a day center and park-and-ride facility, $3 million for dust control mitigation, and $2.75 million for the National Packard Museum when we have bridges falling down?

I think we have plenty of room to reorder our priorities. This amendment does not eliminate any earmark. What it does is delay it. There is no question about it. But the purpose is to put us in touch with the American people saying: First things first. This does not eliminate addressing the 13,000 people who die every year on unsafe roads. Those funds are still available.

We heard from the Senator from Missouri that 400 people succumbed to accidents related to bridges in the last year. The fact is, we have had almost 40,000 people die a year on our roads. A third of that is secondary to alcohol excess. But another third of that is associated with unsafe roads and bridges. That is according to the Department of Transportation.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record a letter from the Department of Transportation inspector general and an accompanying Executive Overview of Report AV-2007-066 of the Department of Transportation.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. An investigation by the inspector general found the following: For 2006, there were 8,056 earmarks within the Department of Transportation program, with a total of more than $8.54 billion, or over 13 percent of DOT's appropriation. So for one in seven and a half dollars, we have directed the spending, and for most of them, it is against the highest priority things we should be funding. So thinking about the risks, thinking about the costs, thinking about our standing in terms of doing what we should be doing to make sure the highest ordered priorities are taken care of--that the bridges that are structurally deficient will be addressed, that the highways that do not meet or exceed a good or acceptable level of safety--we ought to be redirecting this money in that direction. That is what this amendment is about.

We get three choices. We can table the amendment, as I think the motion will be made so we do not have to deal with it, saying we should not change our priorities. We can say yes, and we can renew the faith in the American people that we understand we are here to do priority work. We are not necessarily here to do the next best thing for our political careers.

However you slice it, many of the earmarks are great things. They are great needs which have to be met at some point in time. But most of the earmarks that go for the bridges and roads will not be affected by this amendment at all. The ones that will be affected are those earmarks which are not a priority.

I know we are going to have a vote. I want to give the subcommittee chairman, as well as Ranking Member Bond, a chance to answer this debate. I will say I plan on offering this amendment in another form, if this amendment goes down, limiting it and more directing it, if in fact that is the case.

But we have a duty to do what is in the best interest of our transportation needs in this country. I realize there is a debate, and I realize there is disagreement with me on this issue. But it is going to be hard for us as a body to justify 500 separate earmarks that do not address the bridges in this country, will not help us assess that.

Earlier today, Senator Murray alluded to the $1 billion increase. Well, that is true, but we did not increase the money; we just made it toward the Transportation fund. The trust fund will run out of money a year earlier. So all we did was speed up spending that is allowed in the trust fund that we have today, and that will be consumed more quickly. I agree we probably should do that. But we will, in fact, have to address this issue, and it is about priorities.

With that, Mr. President, I yield back.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

AMENDMENT NO. 2811

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to set aside the pending amendment and call up amendment No. 2811.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, the clerk will report the amendment.

The assistant legislative clerk read as follows:

The Senator from Oklahoma [Mr. Coburn] proposes an amendment numbered 2811.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To prohibit the use of funds made available under this Act for bicycle paths so that the funds can be used to improve bridge and road safety)

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

Sec. __. None of the funds made available under this Act may be spent for bicycle paths or bicycle trails.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator is recognized.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, maybe this will not be as painful an amendment. Again, referencing what Senator Klobuchar said today about repairing the bridge that has collapsed and cost 13 people their lives and many others injuries, we decided not to order priorities with the last amendment but hopefully will give a little bit better consideration to this one.

About 2 1/2 weeks ago, a friend of mine, who has been a friend for over 20 years, talked me into getting a bicycle. I have to say I have markedly enjoyed that exercise. This amendment says that for the $12 million to $18 million in this bill, which is not clear how much is actually for bicycle paths, we should not be spending money on bicycle paths for our own leisure, comfort, and exercise when we have bridges that are falling down. It is very straightforward. It prohibits funding bicycle paths until we have our bridges and highways in order. Through the years, we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on bicycle paths. It is great, it is fun, they are enjoyable, but it isn't as important for us to have fun and enjoyment as it is for us to be responsible in repairing the roads and bridges in this country. This is simply a prohibition that says for the funds that are in this appropriations bill for bicycle paths, we are saying, no we won't spend that money; we are going to spend the money on fixing roads and bridges.

I guess one could say we could do both. We can fix the roads and bridges and we can have bicycle paths. The problem is this body adopted an amendment creating another billion dollars for bridges just yesterday, and what that does is shorten the life of the trust fund. What it does is move the empty, the zero on that fund to 2009. We have addressed some of that, but we haven't addressed it near to the need I believe we should.

I ask my colleagues to give some thought about whether bicycle paths or the safety of our people in cars on bridges and roads in this country is more important.

I will give some examples. There is $3 million for three bike trails in Illinois. Illinois has 290 structurally deficient bridges.

There is $500,000 for the CEMAR Trail in Iowa. Iowa has 61 structurally deficient bridges.

There is $500,000 in Maryland. Maryland has 43 structurally deficient bridges on the National Highway System.

Mississippi has $2.2 million earmarked for bicycle trails and has 28 structurally deficient bridges.

Missouri has $750,000 for the Heart of America bicycle/pedestrian bridge and has 123 structurally deficient bridges on our National Highway System.

North Dakota has $800,000 for the Lewis and Clark Legacy Trail and has nine structurally deficient bridges.

The State of Washington, the chairman's State, has three bike earmarks, $3 million, and 76 structurally deficient bridges.

West Virginia has 98 structurally deficient bridges, but yet $1 million is going to the Paw Paw Bends Trail in Morgan County.

That is not the complete list. I can go on. I have five more pages of States around the country.

It is interesting that in Chesapeake, VA, the council voted in June to build a 2-mile bicycle path estimated to cost $16 million. That is to be paid for with federally earmarked funds and a match. The mayor of that city, in arguing against this expenditure, cast the lone vote, saying: It reminds me of a bridge somewhere to nowhere. You are talking about Government spending. To spend that kind of money on a bike path that would rarely be utilized is astounding to him. The traffic in that area, pedestrian and bike, is four people per day.

I don't deny that it is a wonderful experience that many millions of Americans are getting to enjoy the bike paths we build. The question is, Should we stop for a while and do what we should be doing with our other transportation needs?

A quote from Mary Peters, Secretary of Transportation, is the following:

Americans would be shocked to learn that only about 60 percent of the gas tax money they pay today actually goes into highway and bridge construction. Much of it goes to many, many other areas. Ten to 20 percent goes into areas that are not directly transportation related.

Bike paths and trails happen to fit into that category.

The highway trust fund was set up to build highways and maintain bridges. When 40 percent of it is not used to maintain highways or build bridges, we have missed the priorities the American people have asked for.

The last time the gas tax was increased in 1993, it was 4.3 cents. We have had many people say we need a tax increase on transportation dollars to afford the Transportation bill. I don't believe that is true at all. I believe we ought to be spending the money on true transportation needs--roads and highways and transit--and we should have less of the other.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record an article from the Minnesota Star Tribune recently that noted the significant amounts of money that have been spent in that State on bicycle paths at the same time the chairman of the Transportation Committee did not allocate the funds, along with the State, to effectively solve the problems of the I-35 bridge.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. I will limit my debate on this amendment and try to come back to the Chamber. I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendment be set aside and that we call up and consider amendments Nos. 2812, 2813, and 2814, as a block of three amendments, to be debated en bloc and then to be voted en bloc. I ask for their consideration to be available or time be made available to consider those amendments when I have time to come back to the floor.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

AMENDMENTS NOS. 2812, 2813, AND 2814, EN BLOC

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I made an error in terms of calling up my
amendments. I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendment be set aside and that amendments Nos. 2812, 2813, and 2814 be called up.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. The clerk will report.

The assistant legislative clerk read as follows:

The Senator from Oklahoma [Mr. Coburn] proposes amendments numbered 2812, 2813, and 2814, en bloc.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the reading of the amendments be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendments are as follows:

AMENDMENT NO. 2812
(Purpose: To remove an unnecessary earmark for the International Peace Garden in Dunseith, North Dakota)

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

Sec. 232. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be made available for facility renovation at the International Peace Garden in Dunseith, North Dakota; Provided, That the amount made available for grants for the Economic Development Initiative is reduced by $450,000, and the amount made available for the Community Development Fund is reduced by $450,000.

AMENDMENT NO. 2813
(Purpose: To ensure that no funds made available under this Act shall be used to carry out any activity relating to the design or construction of the America's Wetland Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana, until the date on which the Secretary, in consultation with the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State of Louisiana, certifies to Congress that all residents of the State of Louisiana who were displaced as a result of Hurricane Katrina or Rita in 2005 are no longer living in temporary housing)

At the appropriate place, insert the following:--

Sec. __X. Notwithstanding any other provision of Act, no funds made available under this Act may be used to carry out any activity relating to the design or construction of the America's Wetland Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana, until the date on which the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, in consultation with the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State of Louisiana, certifies to Congress that all residents of the State of Louisiana who were displaced as a result of Hurricane Katrina or Rita in 2005 are no longer living in temporary housing.

AMENDMENT NO. 2814
(Purpose: To prohibit the use of funds for the construction of a baseball facility in Billings, Montana, and to reduce the amounts made available for the Economic Development Initiative and the Community Development Fund)

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

Sec. __X. Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act--

(1) none of the funds made available by this Act may be used for the construction of a new baseball stadium that is replacing Cobb Field in Billings, Montana;

(2) the amount made available by this Act for grants for the Economic Development Initiative is reduced by $500,000; and

(3) the amount made available by this Act for the Community Development Fund is reduced by $500,000.


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