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Conference Report on H.R. 4348, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

As with health care in the aftermath of yesterday's landmark Supreme Court decision, it's now time to move forward and put the divisiveness which has plagued the enactment of a surface transportation reauthorization bill for the first time in decades behind us and coalesce in support of the pending conference agreement.

This bill makes a sound investment in America. Fifty-six years ago, a Democratic Congress and a Republican President came together. And on this day in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which established the interstate system of highways. This historic piece of legislation created a transportation system in this country that awed the world. Yet in recent decades, our roads, bridges, trains, and transit systems have slipped into decline because we have failed to make the necessary investments to improve the condition and performance of this network.

The pending legislation will not completely reverse the course of this decline, but, at the very least, States will see no reduction in the infrastructure investment funding that they desperately need to tackle crumbling roadways, deficient bridges, and to secure rail-highway grade crossings.

The States and transportation contractors will have the ability to count on a stable source of funding through fiscal year 2014, sustaining and creating jobs, and enhancing the mobility and safety of American motorists.

Critical investments in transit will continue, reducing traffic congestion. And alternative means of transportation will continue to be a valued enterprise in which to invest, increasing the quality of life and the health of the American people.

To be sure, there are some glaring shortcomings:

The transit privatization provisions threaten service, not enhance it;

The environmental streamlining provisions shortchange public input and could very well lead to greater delays in project delivery;

The Buy America provision is lethargic compared to the bold and decisive strokes that I advocated;

The mandate to install black boxes on commercial motor vehicles will come at great cost to struggling independent business people, without any proven safety benefits; and

There's an ill-advised provision that has no business in this legislation, which harms our maritime industry by weakening our cargo preference laws.

When all is said and done, though, this bill is what it is.

As with so much legislation in this body, this conference agreement--this one, in particular--means jobs, and it means that we will not have further layoffs. It means that we will continue to move our economy.

And when all is said and done, I will choose to vote for American jobs any day.

Mr. Speaker, before reserving the balance of my time, I ask unanimous consent that time on this side be temporarily managed by Mr. DeFazio of Oregon.

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Mr. RAHALL. Okay. I'm ready to close, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, first I want to extend my deep appreciation to all conferees on this legislation, some 47, I believe.

I'd like to pay particular word of commendation to the chair of the conference committee, the gentlelady from California, Senator Barbara Boxer. She worked extremely hard on this legislation. She worked tirelessly to resist many, many, many extreme proposals that were lobbed at her by Republican House conferees. She worked to ensure that policies and investment levels of this legislation will serve America, and she did work in a bipartisan fashion.

I'd also like to thank my counterpart and the chair of our House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Mr. Mica, for his leadership. He has already spoken, and has many times, of the bipartisan nature in which we started this journey in my hometown of Beckley, West Virginia, and I deeply appreciate the hearings that he started there and his continued outreach across the country.

As this hard road progressed, there were some diversions along the way. There were efforts to sidetrack what we were trying to do in providing long-term funding for this Nation's infrastructure, yet we're here today to hail not the perfect bill--we've heard that many times in this body, and we're not considering the perfect bill. Yet we are, out of necessity, finding ourselves working together to extend our transportation program so that millions more American workers are not laid off the job.

I also want to thank my senior Senator, Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, for his great contribution to this pending measure. Again, efforts were fought. Efforts on his part prevented the further degradation of any safety measures that were proposed in this conference agreement. We have a strong measure in regards to safety issues thanks to Senator Rockefeller.

This legislation will preserve American jobs. As I said in the opening of this conference committee, it's time that we quit taking those political jabs at one another and, rather, provide jobs for our people. That's what we're doing in this legislation. The contracting season is late, especially in many of our northern States, and our contractors need this legislation in order to have the certainty to sign those contracts that put Americans to work this summer repairing our infrastructure. We have put aside, I guess you'll say, our hard heads--I'm happy to say--in exchange for hard hats doing the work that's necessary to get our economy back on.

As with any piece of legislation, we've compromised in this bill--all sides have--which is part of the legislative process. I've always said that. There are some things in this bill we don't like and some things we like. There are probably 435 different ways this bill could have been written if each of us had had his own way to write a bill, but that's not the way the process works. With the process being what it is, we are where we are today, so I am here to support the pending legislation.

As I sit down, I want to also thank the staff for their hard work on both the majority's side in the House and on the minority's side, on our side, and the staff on both sides of the other body as well.

I want to thank our conferees on the House side: Peter DeFazio, Jerry Costello, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jerry Nadler, Corrine Brown, Elijah Cummings, Leonard Boswell, and Tim Bishop. These individuals stuck with us every part of the way, and they truly had their hearts in improving our infrastructure and providing jobs for America.

So this is a jobs bill. I'm happy to support it, and I urge my colleagues to support this conference agreement.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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