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Public Statements

Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC - Senate

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AMENDMENT NO. 670, AS MODIFIED

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, we have all heard from folks back home about the high price of gasoline. When you pull into a gas station to fill up your tank, you're now paying some of the highest prices of all time.

This amendment is designed to do something about that--by promoting a choice at the pump that will allow consumers to choose a fuel that today is 50 cents per gallon cheaper than regular gasoline.

That's why I would like to thank the chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator GRASSLEY, and the ranking member of the Committee, Senator BAUCUS, for their advocacy of this amendment. I also want to thank the manager of the transportation bill, Chairman INHOFE, for working with us on this proposal. These Senate leaders are all committed to addressing high gas prices, and their work on this amendment is an example of that commitment.

I would like to thank my fellow authors of this amendment, Senator TALENT, as well as my distinguished colleague from Illinois, Senator DURBIN, for their hard work in getting this provision passed. And I thank the cosponsors of this amendment, also longtime supporters of ethanol, Senators LUGAR, HARKIN, BAYH, COLEMAN, SALAZAR, DAYTON, and NELSON of Nebraska.

And of course, I would like to thank the excellent staff work of Elizabeth Paris, Matt Jones, and Russ Sullivan on behalf of this provision.

I am sure many of us in this Chamber, and many watching these proceedings, would jump at the chance to fill our cars and trucks with fuel that is 50 cents cheaper than current prices. What many consumers may not know is that that option is available today. It is known as E-85, a fuel comprised of 85 percent ethanol. And I suspect most Americans would agree that a fuel made of 85 percent Midwestern corn is a lot more desirable than one made from 100 percent Middle Eastern oil.

Right now, there are millions of cars and trucks that can run on E-85. They are known as ``flexible fuel vehicles,'' and the auto industry is turning out hundreds of thousands of them every year. These cars and trucks aren't more expensive to operate than regular cars--in fact, for just a one-hundred-dollar adjustment, even regular cars could run on E-85. And if E-85 is good enough for the Indianapolis 500--which just announced their cars will run on this fuel--then you can be sure that E-85 will work great in a flexible fuel vehicle.

The only problem now is our short supply of E-85 fuel stations. While there are more than 180,000 gas stations all over America, only about 400 offer E-85.

The amendment adopted by the Senate today addresses this problem by providing a tax credit to encourage the installation of more E-85 fuel pumps at your local gas station. Its enactment will not only give motorists another option at the pump, it will also send a clear message that the U.S. Senate is serious about reducing our country's dangerous dependence on imported oil.

Again, I thank my colleagues who have worked to adopt this amendment to help make America energy independent.

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AMENDMENT NO. 611

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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, like my distinguished colleagues from Arkansas and from Mississippi, I rise in opposition to the amendment offered by my distinguished colleague from Virginia. I strongly urge my colleagues to preserve the seatbelt program as it is written in the Transportation reauthorization bill.

This provision in the underlying bill gives States that pass primarily seatbelt laws a one-time incentive grant from that State's annual traffic safety grant apportionment. The purpose of this incentive is to encourage States to take specific action, passage of a primary seatbelt law that will save more lives.

As it so happens, my State of Illinois passed a primary seatbelt law in response to this incentive. I know we did it in response to these incentives because I was the chief sponsor of passage of the primary seatbelt law.

The same thing happened in Delaware. The same thing happened in Tennessee. You know what. It works, and it works faster and cheaper than any other method, in terms of ensuring that people wear safety belts and save lives.

It is amazing we have to keep saying this, but seatbelts save lives and primary seatbelt laws save more lives. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration predicts if every State enacted primary seatbelt laws, more than 1,000 lives could be saved each year and 17,000 injuries could be prevented. Seatbelt use is 11 percentage points higher in States with primary enforcement laws than in those States where laws provide for secondary enforcement. And States changing from secondary to primary enforcement have seen 10 to 15 percentage point increases in usage.

Beyond the facts and statistics, this is an issue that makes sense. We should not have to just hope people wear seatbelts, just as we should not have to hope they obey speed limits or hope they stop at red lights. We should do what we can to make sure people will wear seatbelts that will keep them alive. We teach our children to wear seatbelts when they get into a car and we all hope they listen to mom and dad and do it when we are not there, but wouldn't we feel better if we knew our laws in our communities were helping to make that happen? Doesn't it makes sense for the Federal Government to maintain a consistent message on seatbelt use, not through a mandate but through a simple incentive?

The National Safe Kids Campaign thinks so. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers thinks so. They endorse and prefer the Federal incentive as written in the underlying bill.

Finally, a Federal incentive is also a Federal commitment. When the Federal Government makes a commitment and States respond accordingly, then the Federal Government needs to keep its word. One of the points that was raised by Senator Allen in sponsoring this amendment was that, in Virginia at least, there seems to be some concern that primary seatbelt enforcement would result potentially in an increase in racial profiling in Virginia.

As somebody whose community on the south side of Chicago is fairly familiar with racial profiling, and who hears anecdotes each day from African-American drivers who believe they may have been profiled, I am certainly sensitive to Senator Allen's point. As it turns out, though, part of the way we were able to solve this in Illinois was to couple a primary seatbelt enforcement law with a racial profiling law that would ensure we were keeping track as to how traffic enforcement was taking place and to make certain it was being done in a nondiscriminatory fashion.

This was the bargain that was struck at the local level: the notion that we would have a primary seatbelt law enforced; we would also have a data collection bill that would allow us to track and make sure our traffic laws are being applied in a nondiscriminatory fashion.

That deal that was struck in Illinois was premised on the notion that we would be getting these Federal incentives. It is not appropriate for the Federal Government to now pull the rug out from under States such as Illinois that have done the right thing. It is appropriate, instead, for us to keep our word, maintain our commitments, and make sure we continue to incentivize a law that everybody knows, in fact, saves the lives of our citizens.

I encourage my colleagues to oppose this amendment

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