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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


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

A lot of what Mr. Hoyer said I agree with when it comes to moving a transportation bill. I think it is important to America, and our infrastructure is the backbone of our economy. We all know, I think, that in many places in the country it's crumbling, and we here in Congress need to do our job. But this motion to instruct the conferees to accept the Senate bill in its entirety is contrary to the purpose of having a House and a Senate conference.

I know my friend from Maryland has been one of the great defenders of this institution. To suggest that we should just up and take the Senate bill is a bit surprising to me that the gentleman would do that. As I said, he's been a real champion to make sure that the House maintains its position and he has always been a strong defender.

Also, I would just like to remind my Democrat colleagues, because we've been debating this bill for the past several months--my colleagues sometimes need to be reminded that when they controlled both the House and the Senate, they weren't able to get a bill out of full committee on any basis, partisan or bipartisan. So it has been a difficult road. And again, they saw the difficulties back when they were in the majority.

But it's our responsibility to sit down with our Senate colleagues and address areas where we have differences of opinion. And I might add too that there's a statement that just went out from Chairman Boxer and Chairman Mica, a joint statement, that reads:

The conferees have moved forward toward a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a highway reauthorization bill. Both House and Senate conferees will continue to work with a goal of completing a package by next week.

So there's been movement.

I would urge the gentleman to retract his motion, not offer it, because I think there is a point when the chair of the conference and the vice chair of the conference are saying, there has been movement, that it is very positive. The Senate bill, though, if you will want to continue, the Senate bill includes provisions that I have serious concerns with; and I believe many on the other side of the aisle would have serious concerns about it.

When they get to study the Senate bill, you will find that it requires that all new passenger vehicles, all new passenger vehicles beginning in 2015, be equipped with event data recorders. These recorders are similar to the black boxes that are required in aircraft. While the intent of this provision is to collect safety information, I believe many of us would see it as a slippery slope toward Big Government and Big Brother knowing what we're doing and where we are.

So, again, I think if my colleagues on the other side--and we've talked about different ways to collect data--and those on the other side of the aisle have great concerns about allowing information to be collected by Big Brother. And privacy is a big concern for many across America.

There are also areas where the Senate bill does not go far enough. While the Senate bill includes a few provisions to streamline the project delivery process, it does not go far enough. And I believe we are at a time in our history--and the gentleman and many people around here mentioned my father and the good work that he did, and he did great work. But the times have changed in the sense that the last two highway bills that were passed, the economy was in good shape, the highway trust was flush with cash, and we had the ability, as Members of Congress, to direct money back to our States and our districts. So it's been a very difficult process, minus those three things.

Again, these streamlining projects, the Senate bill does not set hard deadlines for Federal agencies to approve projects. So they can just go on and on and on--and have. And that's why it takes 14 to 15 years to build a major highway project in this country.

I was just out in Oklahoma City a month or so ago. They just opened up the Oklahoma City Crosstown Express. It cost $680 million and took 15 years to build. If we're able to do some of these streamlining projects, we believe we can cut that time in half. So if you just look at that project in Oklahoma City, $680 million, on inflation alone we could have saved $60 million to $80 million on that project alone; $60 million to $80 million would go a long way in fixing infrastructure in Maryland and Pennsylvania and Virginia and New Jersey. So these are the kinds of revisions. That's just one, setting the hard deadlines.

It does not allow State environmental laws to be used in place of Federal environmental laws. When a State has a more rigorous environmental process, like California, like other States, why do they need the Federal Government's approval when theirs goes far beyond what we do here in Washington? Or if it's equal to the Federal Government, instead of going through a second environmental regulatory process, let's let the States use theirs--if it's equal to or exceeds the EPA standards.

It does not expand the list of projects that qualify for categorical exclusions. What are categorical exclusions? If you are going to replace a bridge with another bridge in the same footprint, if you are going to expand a roadbed in the current right-of-way, it would allow there to be an abbreviated, a faster review process so that we can get those bridges built faster, we can get those lanes added more quickly.

Again, what it comes down to is saving money. Time is money. I think we all know that. And it also does not expedite projects that are being rebuilt due to disasters. Again, we've seen it in Minnesota. When the bridge collapsed, in 436 days we were able to construct a major bridge crossing over that river in Minnesota.

Also, program consolidation is another important reform that the House has been pushing. The Senate has been pushing to add two new programs at a dollar cost of $3 billion a year. At a time when the highway trust fund is going broke, we should be focusing our limited transportation dollars on consolidating programs and eliminating wasteful programs, not creating new ones.

Funding flexibility for the States, another critical point that allows the States to fund the most economically significant highway and bridge projects in their State. The Federal Government should not mandate the States to plant flowers and beautification.

Even bike paths--and I have been a big supporter of bike paths in the past; but today when we have bridges crumbling, when there is safety in question, in good conscience we can't tell States to spend that type of money. But if they want to, they can. They can opt out. They can spend that money if they so desire. But again, I think this is not a time when the Federal Government should be telling States to spend money on projects that aren't going to be the most beneficial to their constituencies. We need to focus those resources.

These are issues that are not addressed in the Senate bill and should be addressed in this conference. And from the statement that I read earlier, I believe we are moving in a direction to adopt some of what I just talked about.

So I urge my colleagues to oppose this motion. I would urge the gentleman, my friend from Maryland, to step back again at a time when we're getting so close. As the gentleman fully knows--he's been in this institution long enough and has negotiated many, many significant pieces of legislation--this is not a time for us to be out here talking about it, but to hunker down, make sure the conferees, the two chairmen are able to move forward to get a bill that's going to benefit America.

And with that, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. SHUSTER. I yield myself 30 seconds.

Just in response to my good friend from Maryland, I'm glad he brought up some of those other provisions, and they are job-creating provisions.

The RAMP Act will unlock the Harbor Trust Fund so we can invest in our ports, which I know the gentleman has a major port in Maryland. But those dollars are going to rebuilding and dredging and doing the things we need to do to be competitive around the world. So that's a jobs act that's in the transportation bill. And I might add, ports are certainly transportation.


Mr. SHUSTER. I yield myself an additional 30 seconds.

We have also a reform in there on the coal ash, which is an element that goes into making cement. Of course, building roads and bridges, it's about cement and concrete. So there's another provision in it we believe will help our industries to be able to continue to make and produce cement to build our roads.

Finally, the Keystone pipeline. I think all of America--or most of America knows that's been paying attention, which is about 80 percent--believe it is a positive thing to bring oil and energy to America to help power this economy while creating 20,000 jobs and maybe as much as a hundred thousand jobs in indirect labor and jobs to this country.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. SHUSTER. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I appreciate the passion from the gentleman from Virginia, and I believe he is a supporter of infrastructure, as am I. I think you were referring to the former chairman. I was just emailing back and forth to him. He sees much agreement with what we're trying to do in the House. He sees the need for reform. And as I've been going through this process, I certainly talked to him about some of the things he wishes he would have been able to accomplish. And what we're doing in this bill are things he's applauding. If any of you don't realize, the chairman is still alive and well and still consults with his Member of Congress--when I ask and when I don't ask, I might add.

Again, I have to remind my colleagues, and be respectful when I do this, when you had the majority, six times you extended without passing a bill. And you had a majority in the House and Senate and White House. And I might add that, if you would have focused the stimulus bill on an infrastructure bill instead of spending it in all different ways that didn't have the kind of impact that you thought and, in fact, didn't have much of an impact at all, I think we would see a much different economy today if we would have focused on this because I know there are jobs out there, millions of jobs, in construction and construction-related businesses where we could help by passing a bill.

Again, just to remind my colleagues, the House and the Senate, chairman and vice chairman, have issued a statement. We are moving in the right direction towards a bipartisan, bicameral solution, not just a Senate solution. Again, I know that the two gentlemen, the whip and of course Mr. Moran from Virginia, have been great defenders of the House. For us to just give in to the Senate, I don't think I've ever seen them when they were in the majority just handing it off to the Senate. So I feel positive.

Again, I supported Mr. Walz's motion to instruct a few days ago because he said get in there, hammer this thing out; come up with a bipartisan, bicameral bill. That's why I supported that. Again, on this, I just can't support this. I have got to vote against it, and I urge my colleagues to vote ``no'' also.

And with that, I yield back the balance of my time.


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