7 Feb

Much Ado About Nothing ?

Louise Annarino

February 7, 2012


So much of what we read and hear about politics is “much ado about nothing”; while the important information is hidden on a back page, relegated to the lower left-hand column, or never reported. This is partly the result of voice votes scheduled or delayed until late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. For example the vote for Medicare Part D, after 2 days of debate in the House was wrangled to final vote, 216-215, in the very early hours of June 27. The Senate version passed on June 26, and the conference bill came to a vote at 3 a.m. on November 22. When it appeared the vote would fail (219-215) if allowed to proceed to the few final votes the House Republican leadership held the vote open for hours, convincing members to change their votes, passing (220-215) at 5:50 a.m. I recall staying up all night and watching this happen on C-Span. When it was suggested that then-representative Nick Smith (R-MI) switch his vote to “aye” if he wanted substantial and aggressive campaign support” (C-SPAN microphones picked up some of this conversation.See Wickipedia for explanation from Rep. Smith) from  from the Republican Party for his son who was replacing him, I realized this poorly constructed bill would pass. Finally, the problems have been corrected under Obama’s Health Care Affordability Act; the Donut Hole has been closed. Last night, the Transportation Department reauthorization bill was similarly manipulated by Republicans late evening.

The Proposed Transportation Reauthorization Bill  is a vital part of our economic recovery, maintaining  old jobs and creating new ones. It covers surface, rail and air transportation.

Below, are the hi-lights of the bill; one can easily see the importance of passing the bill:

Funding Highlights:

• Provides $13.4 billion in discretionary resources in 2012, a $1.3 billion decrease from 2010 levels. (This figure excludes $109 billion in obligation limitations for the surface transportation plan. Including surface transportation obligation limitations, Department of Transportation’s total budgetary resources increase by $53 billion over 2010.)

• Includes a six-year, $556 billion surface reauthorization plan to modernize the country’s surface transportation infrastructure, create jobs, and pave the way for long-term economic growth. The President will work with the Congress to ensure that the plan will not increase the deficit.

• Jump-starts productive investment and stimulates job growth with a first-year funding boost of $50 billion in 2012.

• Provides $8 billion in 2012 and $53 billion over six years to reach the President’s goal of providing 80 percent of Americans with convenient access to a passenger rail system, featuring high-speed service, within 25 years.

• Includes $30 billion over six years for a pioneering National Infrastructure Bank to invest in projects of regional or national significance to the economy.

• Continues to invest in the Next Generation Air Transportation System—a revolutionary modernization of our aviation system.

• Initiates Transportation Leadership Awards to create incentives for State and local partners to pursue critical transportation policy reforms.

• Reduces funding for Airport Grants, focusing Federal support on smaller airports, while giving larger airports additional flexibility to raise their own resources.

The above provisions are what President Obama sought; but, not what he is being asked to sign. Approval came after more than four years of disagreement over various provisions, which led to repeated short-term extensions and neither growth nor stability. The most recent short-term extension of the FAA funding will expire Feb. 17. If the President vetoes the bill, projects now in place could be shut down, and thousands of workers lose their jobs, creating even more unemployment.

Adding union-busting provisions to this bill were part of changes proposed in the Republican-controlled House Transportation Committee,and supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A Republican-led effort to weaken rules governing union organizing at airlines and railroads was resolved in a compromise between the House and Senate. But unions are rightly angry with both Republicans and Democrats that new provisions seriously toughen requirements for holding elections. The vote to unionize a workplace moves from 35% to 50% of the workforce voting “aye”; and, non-voters would be counted as “nays”. Think how such a system would affect political elections; definitely an unfair and undemocratic system. Judges would no longer review National Mediation Board Rule changes; public hearings would replace that more efficient and less politicized procedure.

It appears that the bill eviscerates public transportation by rail, subway etc. by changing their funding source. It has been difficult to find details of what actually passed late last night versus what had been discussed during the day. News sources are vaguely supportive of the bill without fully disclosing what the final bill includes. What routinely happens is that this will soon become and old story, and no additional details will be reported upon. We the people will be left  with a bad taste in our mouth for both parties: those greedy self-serving Republicans, and those weak-kneed, caving Democrats. Neither of these descriptions is entirely true. If we stay on this story, we can readjust the flaws within this law. Don’t let this story fade from your memory. It is NOT much ado about nothing. The workers, our middle class, need voters with long memories and a willingness to pay attention.

It is easy to blame Democratic Senators and Congresspersons, and President Obama when he signs the bill into law) for “caving” to Republicans. But consider what was at stake.  Senator Cantwell (D-Wash) expects at least 12,000 jobs to be created in her state as a result. It moves the airports from outdated radar to the safer global positioning technology. It allows projects underway to continue without delays. it provides certainty so that other projects can be funded and get underway.

But make no mistake. This Law undermines the middle class and America’s workers. Long term those issues will have to be addressed. Changes will have to be made in new legislation regarding labor and union rights. This is one more example of Republicans holding our President and the Democratic Party hostage.The Republican Party, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce et al. must be held accountable for such blatant attacks on the middle class.

As President Obama stated repeatedly during the 2008 campaign “We are the change that we seek”.


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