Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:  Scott Garrett
Date: June 26, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. GARRETT. It is the desire of this House and Members of this side of the aisle that we put an end to earmarks, and yet some might say that in this bill there contains $150 million solely for the benefit of one particular project, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or WMATA.

This is just one-tenth of the $1.5 billion that Congress intends to spend on the D.C. metro system over a 10-year period. This may not be considered your average earmark. The Heritage Foundation has dubbed this--according to Heritage--``the largest earmark in American history.''

Why? Well, the amendment before us is simple. It would eliminate the subsidy to WMATA that has been received since 2008. At a time of record budget deficits and debt, the American people cannot afford to provide a special subsidy, especially when it takes into consideration the fact that the D.C. metro area already receives funds from several different Federal transit programs. And given the performance of this agency, I really find it amazing. I find it astounding that this year the American people should be expected to give them another $150 million of their hard-earned money.

In addition to the daily service interruptions, the lax management, and the generally poor performance that we're all familiar with, Metro has a significant record of wasteful spending. In 2005, The Washington Post reported that Metro spent $382 million to rebuild cars only to have them break down more often than those that weren't overhauled. The Post also pointed out that when senior agency attorneys wanted two new window offices, they spent $270,000 just to accommodate them. Why not? It's just taxpayer dollars from across the rest of this country.

Earlier this year, it was reported that the Office of the Inspector General uncovered several personnel and unwarranted expenses on Metro's credit card, such as $2,000 worth of gift cards, three camcorders valued at $700, and even $180 just for headphones alone.

Madam Chair, we cannot afford to keep pouring our money into an Agency that clearly hasn't done its job of cleaning its own house.

Finally, it is curious to note that the $150 million this bill provides for is $15 million more than the President requested in his budget. Do we really want to be out-spending the President of the United States in this area?

Finally, hardworking taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize a transportation system that has basically failed over the years to get its own fiscal house in order. We owe it to the American people to do better than that.

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

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Mr. GARRETT. I find it odd that I am in the position here of actually defending the President of the United States and defending what his recommendations are in this area, but I will gladly do so.

The President suggested that, with all of those factors that you have just played out taken into consideration, it was his opinion that we should not be spending this full amount of money. It was President Obama's suggestion that we actually curtail the money.

Mr. OLVER. Yes.

Reclaiming my time, it has been the position of our subcommittee looking at, realizing that the authorization in the PRIIA Act and the commitments that had been made to this metropolitan area, which many of us and many of our staff use for transportation. We have had serious safety problems, and a serious need has been shown through those safety problems for an upgrading of the equipment and systems that we use in this area.

So I think it is certainly my position, and I think it is the chairman of the subcommittee's position, that this is a choice well made, critically made, with critical thought to why this was being done for the safety of the people using the WMATA public transportation system all over Maryland, D.C., and northern Virginia.

Mr. GARRETT. If the gentleman will yield, then the question is: Are you suggesting that the President does not care for the safety of this administration? Are you suggesting that the President----

Mr. OLVER. I'm not suggesting any such thing.

I am suggesting that this is a legislative position, that this should be done, that it has been agreed to be done.

I now have the number of riders. We had 217 million riders in the WMATA system in 2011. That's a huge number of riders, and they deserve some consideration for the safety of the WMATA system.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. GARRETT. I understand all the points that you raise as far as who is using the system, New Jersey people and New York people. But I can make that exact same argument about the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area and our transit area as well, and we don't have a $150 million extra earmark in for our area.

Already, the D.C. metro area is getting $1.5 billion from Congress, from the U.S. taxpayers from Colorado to Oklahoma to Tennessee for this system, and now they're getting $150 million more. But all the tourists that come up from all over the United States to visit my metropolitan area in New York/New Jersey, we're not getting an extra $150 million, and we have the same exact concerns as far as safety and maintenance and the rest.

So the constituents in my area are saying, Why is it that only the constituents down here get this extra earmark and we don't see the same thing for other metropolitan areas?

I thank the gentleman for yielding.

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Mr. GARRETT. I will just make three quick points. One is, again, it is really odd that here I stand with you next to the microphone and that I am actually defending the more conservative position and actually defending the position of the President of the United States, who says we should be spending less money.

Secondly, in a time when we all said, Let's eliminate earmarks, here we have, as Heritage says, the largest earmark in American history. Because this is not simply an issue of saying that this program has a safety need and no one else does. If it wasn't a grant application process where New York, New Jersey, or any other system around the country could have applied and say, Our safety needs are X times high or less than Washington, D.C., maybe there wouldn't be a concern. But that's not the case here.

All the other metropolitan transit systems in the country aren't being weighed as far as what their safety needs or what their maintenance needs are. It just simply made a decision here that Washington, D.C., and the congressional districts that it contains around it somehow or another merit greater service than do the other ones in Chicago or New York or New Jersey, what have you. I think that's where the difficulty lies.

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