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Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users

Location: Washington, DC - Senate


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, first, I commend my friend and colleague from New York, Senator SCHUMER. I was listening to him when he mentioned some of our former colleagues, all with whom I have served. He mentioned Senator Armstrong, and he also mentioned Senator McClure, and Senator Simpson, who was a good friend. I served with him on the Judiciary Committee. He mentioned Senator Durenberger. An excellent article was written by Senator Mathias last week. He mentioned Senator Wallop, and the list goes on. They are seven or eight members of the Senate who served in recent times and have a very good sense of the institution's importance, the importance of the powers of this institution and the relationship to the executive. They have a very keen awareness of the advice and consent role and understand this is a balance that both have responsibilities to fulfill. I think very deeply that Members of the Senate who have strong views on these nominees should not be muzzled, silenced, and they should not be gagged.

The point I might have missed from my friend from New York is the restatement that 96 percent of this President's nominees have been approved. That is always something that causes constant amazement, I find, from people who call my office in Massachusetts inquiring about my position. They find out that 96 percent of the President's nominees have been approved and they wonder what this battle is all about. Then when you tell them this was not a battle the Members of the Senate were interested in, that it was as a result of the President sending back to the Senate those who have previously been rejected and indicated that they were going to add other individuals as well, such as the current general counsel of the Defense Department, Mr. Haynes, who was the architect of the whole torture and emasculation of the Geneva Conventions--these are individuals who are far outside of the mainstream of judicial thinking. I have had the chance to address many of these issues in the markups of the Judiciary Committee in recent times, particularly with regard to Mr. Pryor, who is from the State of Alabama.

I took great pride in working with my colleague and friend from Iowa on the Americans with Disabilities Act. We spent a good deal of time negotiating that legislation. We had strong, bipartisan support at the very end. And then to read Bill Pryor's assessment of what that act said and his interpretation of it is completely antithetical to what the legislation was about, the language that was clear and explicit, and what the sense of the intent and the supporters of that legislation were about. The list goes on. So we welcome this debate.

I agree with the Senator from New York that this is a monumental decision. We are talking about changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game. Americans may not understand completely all of the parliamentary maneuvers here that are available in the Senate, but they understand when you have an agreed set of rules, you don't change them in the middle of the game, and I think they also understand that when Members have strong views and believe nominees who are going to have lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court--not 3 1/2 years, such as this President has in the remainder of his term, but a lifetime commitment--those who have strong views ought to be able to speak to those views and have a right to be heard.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, on another matter, I rise in strong support of Senator SCHUMER's amendment to raise the amount employers can give workers tax free for mass transit commuter costs from the current $105 a month to $200 a month.

In the face of high fuel costs and constant urban congestion, more commuters using mass transit makes increasingly good sense, and the tax benefit is an effective way to encourage it.

The current benefit of $105 a month is too low to cover most mass transit costs in major metropolitan areas, and it is counter-productive that current law provides a benefit almost twice that size for parking--$200 a month.

I have here a diagram that indicates the commuter fees for the different parts coming into Boston. Even from this distance, you can look at them. For Fitchburg, $198; $181 for Lowell; $191 for Gloucester; and the list goes on. From the South Shore, $198; from Stoughton, $149; and $198 from Worcester.

This amendment is good transportation policy and good environmental policy too. It is an energy policy that makes sense as workers see more and more of their paychecks go up in smoke at the gas pump. It is an energy policy that I hope we can all support.

In Massachusetts, the change will help nearly 200,000 commuters who purchase monthly T-passes to commute by bus, subway or commuter rail to work.

By increasing the commuter tax break to parity with the parking benefit--$200 a month--the amendment will cover the cost of every monthly T-pass sold in Massachusetts.

The highest monthly T-pass cost from Worcester, Middleborough/Lakeville or Fitchburg is $198, and would be covered in full, as would fares from Gloucester and Haverhill.

Commuters could have the full $181 cost of commuting from Lawrence or Lowell covered or the $149 cost from Brockton.

By raising the cap to $200, the amendment will also encourage more new employers to participate in the program. They will be able to give an affordable benefit of much greater value to their employees.

And as more employers come into the program, we can cut down on gridlock in Boston and other urban areas across the country.

In Boston, gridlock cost the average commuter 51 extra hours a year. Congestion nationwide costs $63 billion a year in wasted productivity and energy.

The amendment means more moms and dads will have more time to spend with their children, instead of being stuck in traffic. And more employees will get to work on time, meaning higher productivity.

We cannot afford to waste fuel like this anymore. Our dependence on foreign oil is a national crisis. The amendment will help save some of the 2.3 billion gallons of gas a year now being lost to unnecessary congestion. This amendment will mean clearer air in our cities and less wear and tear on our roads.

In so many ways, this is a smart amendment and a fair amendment, and I urge our colleagues to support it.

I yield the floor.


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