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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


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

Mr. Chairman, it is a pleasure to see the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013 considered on the House floor this year. And I thank Chairman Latham, first, for his kind words, but also for maintaining an inclusive committee process as this bill was prepared. He has been a good partner for the past 4 years, and I value our relationship.

I also want to recognize the hard work of the committee staff, specifically, on the majority side: Dena Baron, Doug Disrud, Sara Peters, Mike Friedberg, Brian Barnard, and Doug Bobbitt. And on the minority side: Kate Hallahan, Joe Carlile, and Blair Anderson.

Chairman Latham and I are lucky to have such dedicated staff who work amiably and respectfully together. They have spent many late nights putting this bill together, and we would not be here today without their hard work.

Mr. Chairman, the Republican leadership's decision to ignore last summer's Budget Control Act agreement has left this bill with an inadequate allocation to properly fund our transportation and housing investment needs. The resulting artificially low allocation forced Chairman Latham to make unnecessary and destructive trade-offs.

Specifically, I have concerns that the Ryan budget forces us to accept the administration's proposal to fund project-based section 8 contracts for less than a full year. This does not shrink the program nor reduce the deficit. It simply pushes the costs down the road and increases uncertainty for private business owners.

I'm also disappointed that this bill does not fund the sustainable communities initiative.

However, within the constraints forced upon him, I recognize that Chairman Latham has put forward a respectable bill that contains a number of bright spots, including increases for Amtrak, CDBG, the HOME program, and housing for the elderly, for which he should be commended. I hope that as the process moves forward and we receive a real allocation, that these increases will be preserved and that the holes can be addressed.

Unfortunately, I am concerned that the House Republican leadership's decision to underfund this bill is not an isolated incident, but is symptomatic of an ideology that does not understand the value of infrastructure investment.

This strategy is wrong for America.

Last year, the leaders of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, not usually bedfellows, agreed that we must have greater investment in our Nation's infrastructure in order to create jobs and to be competitive in the global economy.

A modern, well-maintained transportation network is absolutely necessary for our economy to grow and the country to prosper.

The breadth of direct and indirect influence of our transportation networks on the economy is staggering. Our auto manufacturing industry, its enormous parts supplier base, the national network of gas stations and its complex distribution system, and the oil industry all thrive because we have an efficient highway system that people need to use.

The physical construction of roads and railroads requires aggregate materials processed locally, steel trusses and rebar made by American companies and crews manned by American workers.

Our transit system supports the domestic manufacturing of buses, streetcars, and trains, while providing businesses with cost-effective access to labor pools.

Furthermore, every good produced or consumed in the U.S. must be transported via our network of roads, rails, and ports. As a result, the efficiency with which our system operates determines whether American goods can compete in the global marketplace.

Yet, report after report indicates that we are falling behind. The American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure report card gave us a ``D'' and estimated that more than a $2 trillion investment is needed. DOT's most recent ``Conditions and Performance Report'' indicates that there is an annual investment gap of $27 billion just to maintain our current system of highways and bridges in a state of good repair, and a much larger gap to expand the system to meet the needs of the growing population.

The United States has the largest economy in the world, yet the World Economic Forum's most recent ranking drops America's infrastructure quality to 23rd in the world.

The reason for our infrastructure decline is simple. We are not raising enough revenue to fund our infrastructure needs. In 2000, the highway and mass transit accounts raised $35 billion. By 2011, they only raised $37 billion. When you factor in inflation, we are raising 20 percent fewer dollars for our transportation infrastructure than we did 10 years ago. This is unsustainable. During the same period, the U.S. population grew 10 percent to 309 million people; 65 percent of them live in metropolitan areas having populations greater than 500,000 people.

Our largest 50 metropolitan areas have more than 1 million in population; 13 of them, all cities in the sunbelt such as Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Phoenix, and Charlotte, grew more than 25 percent in one single decade, the last decade. Such burgeoning communities need a massive, timely expansion of both highway and transit facilities in order to ensure that rapid population growth doesn't choke their economies with congestion.

In contrast, 22 of those 50 largest areas, all older mature metropolitan areas, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles, are growing slower than the national average; but their built-out highway, transit, and commute rail systems are deteriorating and need a massive, timely program of rehabilitation to simply reach a state of good repair.

Our rural areas face an even worse problem. The number of counties in rural America that are losing population is rising rapidly. With that comes disinvestment in education, health care, and public infrastructure of all shades. Yet virtually the entire rural road system must be maintained in a state of good repair or our rural areas will become ever greater pockets of poverty.

If we are to meet these changing population demographics and provide a transportation system that functions as a sound foundation and not a hindrance on our economy, Congress must find the means and grow the political courage to raise revenue.

The current debate on the surface authorization does not accomplish that. In fact, the present gridlock of debate is only effective at slowing economic growth and keeping America's unemployment high. That cannot be America's goal.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. OLVER. Mr. Chairman, I find it a little bit difficult here where we're taking from one place and putting it into another place. I don't dispute what the chairman has said about not being certain that the money will be used for the right purpose at that point; however, the place where the offset is being made from the Financial Management Capital program under DOT, that amount leaves that account with the same amount that was in the account in 2012. That should not be a particularly onerous change on that score.

On the other hand, the issue that the gentleman from Virginia has raised, the issue of the distracted driving and how important it is, we are just losing a lot of young people to distracted driving. There seems to be no sense that being on a cell phone or an iPad or some other of the common IT programs that are now available, working with that doesn't seem to lead to any sense that their driving capacity has been impaired.

In 2010, NHTSA estimated that more than 3,000 people were killed and more than 400,000 were injured in distracted driving crashes. Secretary LaHood has made the elimination of distracted driving one of his key safety priorities and has requested funding in each of the last three budgets to do that. It seems to me, with the sense that NHTSA views this issue of 3,000 killed, as they say, in 2010, 2 years ago already, and more than 400,000 injured and the Secretary's very strong interest in the distracted driving issue, that this would be a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

With that, I will support the gentleman from Virginia's amendment, and I yield the balance of my time.


Mr. OLVER. Reclaiming my time at this point, I strongly oppose this amendment.

I think that in this instance, we should understand that the major task of the Office of Civil Rights is to ensure that discrimination doesn't occur in the implementation of DOT programs.

The chairman of the subcommittee has already carefully weighed the needs of the office and made, I think, a responsible judgment as to the correct funding amount. I urge Members to oppose the amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. OLVER. Mr. Chairman, I think what we have is a rather classical kind of situation. The gentleman from California, I suspect, has no Essential Air Service site in his district, but there are 100 communities, more than 100 communities around the country, some of them in very isolated circumstances. I don't know about the situation in the case of the one from Baltimore, but it must be somebody who is on the east shore and gets Essential Air Service out of Cambridge, Maryland, or some other place like that, that is of great significance to them and might be of some significance to the person who represents that eastern shore of Maryland.

He uses several times in several ways the example of Alaska. Alaska happens to be a territory with huge distances and relatively unpopulated, and they don't have any roads in much of Alaska and so the only way they can get in and out is by air, or maybe in the wintertime by dog sled. So I think it is really presumptuous of the gentleman from California to attack all of this program of essential air services covering services in a lot of the rural parts of this country.

I have none in my district. Many of the urban areas obviously do not have any in their area. But the Montanas and the much more rural States, elsewhere in the mountain States and so on, there are numerous of them that use the Essential Air Service, and I think that the idea of simply zeroing this one out, in a petulance almost, is really quite inappropriate.

So I strongly oppose the amendment and hope that Members will not agree to this amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. OLVER. From what I understand of this amendment, the gentleman from Georgia is now removing a little over $1 million, $1,300,000 or thereabouts, from the $100 million that is assigned by Mr. Latham's bill for the administrative expenses of the FTA.

As I pointed out in my opening statement, 65 percent of all of our population in this country--and it's going up every census--is now living in metropolitan areas with populations of greater than a half a million people. The remarkable thing about this is that, among the 50 largest metropolitan areas, there is a 25 percent increase every decade in their populations.

Georgia has one of those major population areas--the whole Atlanta area--which is also growing by more than 25 percent every decade, but the gentleman is trying to constrain the dollars of the FTA, which is the agency that provides the development of transit services for all of these major metropolitan areas around the country.

I think that this is an exceedingly modest increase that has been proposed. Virtually everybody has metropolitan areas that are in need of this enormous increase in investments for transit services, for public transportation services, whether they be by commuter rail or by light rail--any one of those programs.

I just think that this is an exceedingly short-sighted amendment to be trying to impose upon the FTA, which has increased its total services to the urban parts of the country. Year after year, the number of grants that are being given out, the amount of the administration of those grants goes up, and it must continue to go up if we're going to continue to have growth in population, which we expect is going to continue at roughly 10 percent per decade, as it has in the last decade.

I strongly oppose this amendment and urge a ``no'' vote on the amendment. I think that it is clearly a counterproductive thing to be doing, no matter what our economic times may look like at the present time.

We have to get back to a growth program in this country. We have to get back to building more infrastructure and to administrate through the FTA the programs by which those infrastructure improvements get made in all of the metropolitan areas that are growing around the country.

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


Mr. OLVER. Madam Chairwoman, the amendment that is offered here in this instance is really quite a curious one, it seems to me.

The gentleman offering the amendment is from New Jersey, the largest overall metropolitan system, with its commuter rails, with its expansions needed, always repairing, always upgrading, always expanding the systems that serve the whole New York metropolitan area. It serves northern New Jersey, which partly serves people in his district.

Now, the amendment that is being proposed is an amendment that affects WMATA, the Washington/Virginia/Maryland metropolitan area, which is our sixth largest metro area, with somewhat over 5 million people. I don't know exactly--although my staff here is trying to figure it out--how many riders there are on WMATA each year.

The expenditure under consideration of $150 million a year was fully authorized by the PRIIA Act in 2008, signed by President Bush at that time. And this is about the third or fourth year of the $150 million guarantee, the commitment in the authorizing bill to do the $150 million per year in the whole system, no specific place, not in a specific congressional district, though there are several congressional districts in which WMATA functions. And it's matched dollar for dollar. It's 50 percent matching moneys. Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. have to match the $150 million along the way.

We do have, occasionally, safety problems. We have had some crashes here in Washington and some people who have been injured or killed in those crashes.

And I find it really quite curious that the gentleman from New Jersey would be trying to take away the money that is fully authorized----


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. 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.


Mr. OLVER. Madam Chairwoman, I understand that since I claimed the time in opposition, I retain, then, the right to strike the last word, so I have struck the last word. Thank you very much.

Just to continue this one, New York, at the present time, is benefiting from enormous additional investments in two major projects. One reaches out into Long Island, the so-called East Side Access project, which you wouldn't know or care, perhaps, much about because it reaches to all the population out on Long Island--to the east, to that direction for you, to the east--and the Second Avenue Subway.

So that New York system has those two very large programs. Each one of them is about $2 billion. That's $2 billion going on concurrently with what this 10-year program is for the maintenance of the system here in Washington, when we have had clear evidence of safety difficulties and equipment difficulties that had not been taken into account. We were not putting enough investment into the maintenance of the Washington system.

And to add to the gentleman from Virginia's comment about this, our
constituents from every district all over the country come to Washington and deserve to have a really good public transportation system in Washington. So it is in all of our interests to make certain that that system is up to snuff on safety and the equipment is in good repair. So I have no apology whatsoever for supporting this one, and would strongly urge that we defeat this amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. OLVER. What we are talking about here is pipeline safety inspectors. The increase in pipeline safety inspectors, and the agency is Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, that organization has, over the last few years, had an ever-increasing responsibility.

Just about 18 months ago, we had a Pacific Gas and Electric pipeline that ruptured in San Bruno, California. The ensuing fire and explosion leveled some 35 homes and killed eight people. The National Transportation Safety Board's investigation found that Pacific Gas and Electric's poor quality control and integrity management systems contributed to the cause of the pipeline rupture. It is a prime example of why we need strong enforcement and oversight of the Nation's ever-expanding, really already vast, but ever-expanding pipeline system.

Now, section 31 of the Pipeline Safety Reauthorization bill enacted on January 3 of this year authorized 10 additional pipeline inspection and enforcement personnel if the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration had filled all 135 of its existing positions by a certain deadline.

We need to be doing more rather than less on pipeline safety, and so I oppose this amendment very strongly.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. OLVER. I am inclined to support the amendment that the gentlewoman from California has proposed, recognizing that the request on the part of the administration was for $55 million, and that it's an interesting juxtaposition, because the HUD counseling programming, the request is for $55 million. The request for the National Reinvestment Corporation, that's NeighborWorks, which does also counseling, that request was for $213 million, for a total of $268 million.

The other body, in the legislation that they put forward, with a much larger allocation than we had in our budget because of the position on what the discretionary expenditure limits would be on the House side, the other body gave 55, the President's request, but also gave 215 for the National Reinvestment Corporation's account, which put them on the other body's side account, to $2 million above.

In the wisdom of the chairman, on the House side, in our bill, we have $10 million less for the HUD Department's program, but $10 million more for the National Reinvestment Corporation's program. To my view, it doesn't make much difference there, but I will support the gentlewoman from California for her passion on this one.

I think it is certainly very clear that if the economy recovers, more Americans are going to be buying homes and that it is crucial that we have programs in place in both of those locuses that ensure that homeowners and new homeowners and people who are prospective homeowners do not repeat the same mistakes that led us into the financial crisis in the first place.

So I think it's a small difference, but I'm going to support the gentlewoman's amendment; and I hope the amendment will be adopted.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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