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Public Statements

Motion to Instruct Conferees on H.R. 4348, Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, Part II

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. WALZ of Minnesota. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to thank the gentleman from Tennessee for being here. I know his commitment to building infrastructure in this Nation is unquestioned. He's been a good friend and a gentleman on the committee.

I think what we're here for today, Mr. Speaker, is the American people deserve better from us. We have a need in this country that is obvious to everyone. The infrastructure in this country is crumbling: 70,000 deficient bridges; nearly half our highways in disrepair. And being a Member from Minnesota, that hot August day almost 5 years ago when the I 35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River is a stark testament of what we can do.

The Transportation Committee, by command of the Constitution, if you will, has always been there to build the post roads. This Nation has built canals, locks, dams, and ports. We've built railroads that connected the continent and spurred the industrial revolution. We've built an interstate highway system that made the American economy the envy of the world. We have possessed vision, we've possessed willpower, and we've done it in a manner that incorporated bipartisan support and, at the end of the day, compromise.

The last bill that passed, SAFETEA-LU, passed by a vote in this House in 2005 of 412 8; in the Senate, 91 4. The previous bill, 2007, 297 86, and 88 5 in the Senate. In 1991, 372 47; the Senate, 79 8. In 1987, over the last 25 years, 350 73. We have the will. We simply need to exercise the political willpower to move this piece of legislation.

So this motion to instruct is very simple. A hundred days ago, the Senate passed their version. It received a vote of 74 22. It is a bipartisan bill.

Now, I will be the first to tell you the prerogative of the House to lead is sacred to us here. We need to have a say in this. We need to make sure that the people's House has their voice in things. The problem we have is we've been sitting in conference committee for 45 days with a deadlock and no end in sight.

So this motion to instruct, yes, it's a nonbinding sense of the House, but I would argue it's far more than that. This is a sense of the American public. They sent us here to do some basic work. They did not send us here to agree with each other on everything, but they did have that understanding that the glue that binds the Nation together is compromise. And there are a very few things that historically have been bipartisan. The transportation bill has been one of those.

So what this MTI asks is: rectify the differences and compromise to the point that we can get something on the floor and finish the work by June 22, this Friday. Then give us the opportunity to exercise the American will by having their Representatives discuss what needs to be there. If we can't come to a compromise, bring us the Senate bill and let's have the up-or-down vote. If it passes, we can move forward. If it doesn't, then we start and go on from there. But I have to tell you, we can't afford to kick this can down the road--and I would say the proverbial ``crumbling road.''

The Chamber of Commerce has made the case:

Failure to keep up with infrastructure needs in the U.S. cost this economy $2 trillion between 2008 and 2009.

Every year we do nothing, we spend over $100 billion on idling tax. We waste 1.9 billion gallons of fuel yearly. That's 5 percent of our fuel needs. That's money going to foreign countries who hate us. They'll hate us for free. We can be more efficient. We cannot waste Americans' hard-earned dollars staring at the bumper in front of them. We can do it safely, and we can move our products to market faster; and we have that power.

I said it this morning. I'll continue to say it. Up above the Speaker's chair up there is the quote from Daniel Webster. How about we do something worthy to be remembered for. How about we come together and pass a bill that the people say, They did the peoples' work. They compromised.

It's not about getting what each of us wants. It's about getting what the American public needs.

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Mr. WALZ of Minnesota. I thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania. He's a good friend and colleague and an honest broker on things.

I agree with the gentleman on the categorically excluded bridges; 96 percent are now. So we can decide now, do we want to bog down on that last 4 percent, or do we want to get a bill forward? I think there's agreement here. I think we're in a clear-cut case of if the perfect gets in the way of the good, the American public pays for that. But I appreciate his support on this and his desire to get a bill done. And I think it's been obvious that he wants this transportation bill done, so I thank the gentleman.

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Mr. WALZ of Minnesota. Mr. Speaker, again, I would like to thank the gentleman from Tennessee, a leader on this. He has the institutional experience and knowledge and is always gracious. I would have to say you're going to find a lot of agreement from me on this. I certainly think that is the case.

The American public deserves better. I think they deserve a debate like they're seeing tonight. They see a sense of respect that goes back and forth. Frustrations get high in this House, but I keep thinking back to the immeasurable sacrifices that went into self-governances. It would be a lot easier--I had a gentleman one time tell me that there's too many Members of Congress; we should cut the numbers in half. I said, Why think so small? Get rid of all of us and just name a king, and then you don't have to worry about this messy democracy.

That's not what Americans do. We understand that there's 435 good opinions here, differences, strong opinions for the right things about this country, but we disagree on how some of those things should get done. At the end of the day, those differences are a strength if we can get the glue that holds us together as a Nation in a compromise. I will be the first to say that I certainly don't want to see this House capitulate its responsibility, but I also understand that at times there are certain realities of what can move and what cannot. I think deadlines like this motion to instruct puts in makes that deadline solid and it asks what can we give.

Many of the provisions my colleagues were talking about, whether it is Keystone pipeline--I am personally supportive of that. If it's in here, I think that's a good thing. But I understand that a lot of my colleagues don't, and there's no way the Senate does that. The American people have elected us. They've elected a Senate that doesn't agree with that. So at the end of the day, I have to make a choice and all of us do. Is it worth holding up a highway bill over a piece of legislation that I personally like but don't believe that it outpaces the point of getting these roads built?

I think the public wants to see us do that. I certainly am willing to compromise, as my friend from Tennessee has always proven to me, to try and get it right. And I think the public wants us to stand by our principles of trying to get it there. But at the end of the day, something has to be done, something has to move forward. The country depends on a workable infrastructure.

I can't tell you, in watching this happen, of seeing how important moving those products is when the I 35W bridge was in the river, not just in terms of the loss of life, the tragedy that happened there, but the disruptions that happened also, that sprung out and rippled into the economy. I think all of us understand that tragic incident, that we don't want to see it replicated, and we also know that smart investments prevent it from happening.

Mr. Speaker, I am appreciative of the Members who came and spoke passionately tonight. I'm appreciative of the folks who understand that this deliberative body has to come to some type of resolution. I would urge my colleagues to support this motion to instruct, simply asking us to do the work we were sent here to do, get it done on time, and get America working and moving again.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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