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UPDATED: Senate sweetens bailout bill with Bike Commuter Act

Posted by on October 2nd, 2008 at 10:19 am

[See below for updates: Hint, Blumenauer is saying he won't support the bailout package.]


“The (bailout) bill now includes a… tax benefit for bicycle commuting sought by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, also a “no” vote on Monday.”
– from an article in the Baltimore Sun

Hoping to garner votes from House members who previously voted “no” on the $700 billion financial bailout package, the U.S. Senate has added several sweeteners to the bill (now known as the “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008″).

Among those enhancements (according to this article in the Baltimore Sun) is the Bike Commuter Act, a piece of legislation championed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer for many years. Blumenauer voted “no” on the bailout on Monday and the move by the Senate is being done in hopes to turn that into a “yes”.

(See below for full text of the bike commuter benefit portion of the bill.)

The Bike Commuter Act most recently passed the House and Senate as part of the Energy and Tax Extenders Act of 2008 (H.R. 6049). However, according to Blumenauer staffer Katie Drennan, that bill is currently bogged down as lawmakers figure out how to pay for it and try to reach compromises on amendments.

Drennan says Blumenauer had nothing to do with the Bike Commuter Act being added into the bailout bill.

Regardless of how it ended up here, it puts Blumenauer in an interesting political position. If he sticks to his guns and votes “no” on the bailout (like he did on Monday), he might be passing up the best chance his Bike Commuter Act has ever had.

As for whether or not the Bike Commuter Act provision will sway Blumenauer’s vote; Drennan was cautious and told me this morning that, “I don’t know if that will influence how he votes.”

The House is set to vote on the bailout package on Friday.

[Thanks to reader Darren P. for the heads up on this.]

[UPDATES:
1:52pm: Here’s the most recent statement from Congressman Blumenauer:

“I continue to think that we need more protections for taxpayer and bankruptcy fairness which will do more to stop the free fall than anything else.

Obviously, this is a dynamic economic situation and many things are in play. I am listening carefully and closely monitoring the situation.

Knowing what I know now in terms of our economic situation and with this bill in its current form, absent some dramatic change in circumstances, I have no plans to support the bailout legislation.

====

1:45pm: Katie Drennan from Blumenauer’s office just left this comment:

“I just want to clarify that the inclusion of the tax extenders bill, adopted by the Senate, was not added in due to any negotiations on the part of Congressman Blumenauer. The legislation is far reaching and includes incentives for many types of alternative energy, as well as revising the Alternative Minimum Tax. There are many good provisions in the legislation, which is why the House has passed it on numerous occasions. However the decision of the Senate to include these provisions in their legislation was not at the behest of the Congressman. Thank you for allowing me to clarify.”


Here’s the full text of the bike commuter benefit portion of the bill (link):

SEC. 211. TRANSPORTATION FRINGE BENEFIT TO BICYCLE COMMUTERS.

(a) In General- Paragraph (1) of section 132(f) is amended by adding at the end the following:

`(D) Any qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement.’.

(b) Limitation on Exclusion- Paragraph (2) of section 132(f) is amended by striking `and’ at the end of subparagraph (A), by striking the period at the end of subparagraph (B) and inserting `, and’, and by adding at the end the following new subparagraph:

`(C) the applicable annual limitation in the case of any qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement.’.

(c) Definitions- Paragraph (5) of section 132(f) is amended by adding at the end the following:

`(F) DEFINITIONS RELATED TO BICYCLE COMMUTING REIMBURSEMENT-

`(i) QUALIFIED BICYCLE COMMUTING REIMBURSEMENT- The term `qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement’ means, with respect to any calendar year, any employer reimbursement during the 15-month period beginning with the first day of such calendar year for reasonable expenses incurred by the employee during such calendar year for the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair, and storage, if such bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment.

`(ii) APPLICABLE ANNUAL LIMITATION- The term `applicable annual limitation’ means, with respect to any employee for any calendar year, the product of $20 multiplied by the number of qualified bicycle commuting months during such year.

`(iii) QUALIFIED BICYCLE COMMUTING MONTH- The term `qualified bicycle commuting month’ means, with respect to any employee, any month during which such employee–

`(I) regularly uses the bicycle for a substantial portion of the travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment, and

`(II) does not receive any benefit described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) of paragraph (1).’.

(d) Constructive Receipt of Benefit- Paragraph (4) of section 132(f) is amended by inserting `(other than a qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement)’ after `qualified transportation fringe’.

(e) Effective Date- The amendments made by this section shall apply to taxable years beginning after December 31, 2008.

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Comments
  • chuck October 2, 2008 at 10:27 am

    of all the slimy…

    man, that’s tough.

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  • toddistic October 2, 2008 at 10:35 am

    screw that! thats a pretty lame ass move by politicans.

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  • nuovorecord October 2, 2008 at 10:37 am

    Vote “no”, Earl. Obama is gonna win, the Dems will retain control of Congress and the Bike Commute Bill will get passed next session. Don’t screw us all to get a relatively small, though important, bit of legislation passed.

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  • Dean Nelson October 2, 2008 at 10:42 am

    What a bunch of JUNK! What does a bike have to do with any of this mess on Wall Street?!?!? And why are these politicans in office? They truely have lost touch with reality!

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  • Allan October 2, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Maybe he can vote ‘no’ and satisfy all of you but the bill will pass anyhow (somewhat likely) and then y’all wont be quite as pissed because at least something good is coming out of it.

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  • woogie October 2, 2008 at 10:45 am

    This is how we got the bridge to no where. Political pork being added to bills to buy votes.

    Earl just lost a lot of respect here. Won’t vote for a $700B bail out unless his pet project gets added.

    How many more millions or billions is this going to cost the tax payers in the end?

    If ever the line item veto were needed it’s now.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 2, 2008 at 10:50 am

    “Earl just lost a lot of respect here. Won’t vote for a $700B bail out unless his pet project gets added.”

    Woogie,

    I think you’ve misread the story. Blumenauer had nothing to do with the bike commuter piece being added into the bailout pkg. your characterization of him above is incorrect.

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  • joe October 2, 2008 at 10:51 am

    whenever I follow the legislative process too closely, I get a little ill.

    451 page bills can suck it. this is like a legislative right hook.

    I used to work for a company in San Francisco which gave a monthly transportation allowance of $100. You then could decide how you wanted to use your allowance. that was a sweet new bike every year!

    I don’t know what the answer is but voting out oregon’s current incumbent is a good start.

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  • nuovorecord October 2, 2008 at 10:51 am

    Woogie #6…what are you reading?

    Earl had nothing to do with this being put into the bailout bill and he hasn’t indicated how he’ll vote on this version of it. Why has he lost respect in your eyes?

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  • MattD October 2, 2008 at 10:55 am

    bait.. pure and simple. My hopes is that Rep. Blumenauer continues to votes no on the bailout package.

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  • chris October 2, 2008 at 11:02 am

    Ouch… tough choice for Earl. Seems like a slimy trick to lure votes out with some pork.

    Sucks that the politicians can’t focus on the problem at hand without playing games.

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  • Andy October 2, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Well I hope Senator McCain fought against this blatant earmark spending before voting in favor of the bill.

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  • Coyote October 2, 2008 at 11:23 am

    They also tacked on the restoration of timber payments to Oregon Counties. This will put a lot of pressure on DeFazio to change his vote to yes.

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  • a.O October 2, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Yall think this is “slimy”? Have you been paying attention to Congress? Earmarking like this is standard procedure…

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  • Anonymous October 2, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    I cant wait until the next election when some Corporate Drone from the Elephant Parade who’s running against Earl claims he’s a flip flopper for writing the legislation then voting against it (all this taken completely out of context of course). Washington Politics Suck Butt!

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  • Snowflake Seven October 2, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Just vote NO.

    The Senate version of the EESA is honey drizzled on dog shit.

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  • Darren October 2, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    From internet reports…

    “Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said he still opposed the bill, despite Senate inclusion of a program that pays rural counties hurt by federal logging cutbacks. DeFazio is a leading advocate of the timber program but said it was not enough to persuade him to vote for a bill that he called fundamentally flawed. “

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  • bahueh October 2, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    a.o…most projects and small tax incentive you see on a daily basis were congressional earmarks brought to you by your local politicians who hire lobbyists to go to congress and make an annoyance of themselves until they’re funded..

    Most of Alaska was built on earmarks. you take your pros with your cons….

    but I hope Earl doesn’t cave in…

    not sure why congress thinks buying bad debt is a good idea…let the whole system collapse and self-correct. it’s not congresses job to keep the country’s economy out of natural high and low cycles..

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  • Darren October 2, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Sorry for the duplicate. From internet reports…

    “Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., a liberal opponent, is also reconsidering his vote, but is “not on board yet,” Lucia Graves, his spokeswoman, said on Thursday. Blumenauer wants to see a mechanism to pay for the bailout and more help for homeowners staring at foreclosure.”

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  • Peter October 2, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    shoot – since there’s apparently an unlimited supply of free stuff to give away, i’m hoping i can get a free commuter bike thrown into the mix.

    and we should rename the bill to something really snappy – like the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. act. what’s an acronym for ‘Give billions to the richest Americans, a couple of happy meals to regular Americans, and make our children pay for it all’?

    can you say, ‘transfer of wealth’?

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  • r. October 2, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    several points:

    1. allowing favorable tax treatment of an employee benefit somewhat analogous to paying for your space in a parking garage is not an “earmark.” it would be an earmark if the only eligible cyclists lived in Blumenauer’s district.

    2. in fact, H.R. 6049 in its entirety is part of this huge bill, Ms. Drennan is not keeping up. what was hanging the “tax extenders” bill up was that the House wanted to offset the revenue losses over here with revenue raisers over there, and the Senate could not get past forty-plus Republicans threatening a filibuster.

    3. the House would not pass the bailout bill without some concessions that Senate Republicans would not give unless they got their way on the tax measures.

    4. so the Senate threw the whole thing together and got the necessary votes, and has now tossed it back to the House.

    5. the bike commuter bill should never have been mixed in with the tax extenders bill in the first place, and the fact that it got dragged along here with the bailout should not really be seen as throwing a bone to Blumenauer or any other bike-friendly House member.

    6. if Blumenauer is not satisfied with the changes that have been made to the bailout bill — disregarding all the tax stuff, including the bike commuter bill — he should have no problem voting against it. I mean, $700 billion, c’mon.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) October 2, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    r. (comment #21),

    thanks for that information. According to further info I’ve heard just recently, your assessment is right on.

    I might not have framed this information correctly in my story. I will try and go back and add/clean up the story.

    thanks.

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  • a.O October 2, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Agreed bahueh, and that was my point. Congress thinks buying bad debt is a good idea because their major contributors are the ones holding the bad debt. It’s pretty simple if you follow the money trail – and a good example of why the proposal enjoys support from both Presidential candidates.

    The idea that it’s not Congress’ job to keep the economy from tanking has not been taken seriously since the Great Depression – that’s not to say it’s right or wrong, just historical fact. Probably the Federal government would have been overthrown if it had not acted as it did in the 1930s. Even Earl says yes to this if it includes something for the middle class (see #19).

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  • r. October 2, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    in fairness to Ms. Drennan –

    some of the revenue raisers the House had wanted that were in 6049 did not make it into the bailout agglomeration, but the White House had already threatened to veto these, and with the Senate unable even to block a filibuster, there was no way these would have gotten through anyway.

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  • Katie Drennan October 2, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Hi all- I just want to clarify that the inclusion of the tax extenders bill, adopted by the Senate, was not added in due to any negotiations on the part of Congressman Blumenauer. The legislation is far reaching and includes incentives for many types of alternative energy, as well as revising the Alternative Minimum Tax. There are many good provisions in the legislation, which is why the House has passed it on numerous occasions. However the decision of the Senate to include these provisions in their legislation was not at the behest of the Congressman. Thank you for allowing me to clarify.

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  • Jason October 2, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Has anyone noticed how the tax break is substantially less for bicyclists than it is for motor vehicles?

    This is not as reasonable as it sounds. It says that Congress doesn’t want to create preferable conditions for bicyclists; that if you want to pollute the air and pay $$$ to foreign terrorists, we’ll give you a bigger tax break.

    Sigh. We still have a ways to go, don’t we?

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  • Icarus Falling October 2, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    I actually hope that the bailout and the Bike commuter act fail,(especially the bail out) making room for a proper commuter act that would benefit every bike commuter, regardless of who you happen to work for.

    If a tax credit is offered to one cycle commuter, it should immediately become also available to ALL bike commuters, and should have nothing to do with who you are employed by.

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  • Matthew Denton October 2, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    #23 aO, While I agree that Congress should prevent the economy from tanking:
    1) The 17th largest DOW drop isn’t exactly tanking in the first place, (and I will admit that my 401k lost $4k on Monday, so it isn’t like I’m happy about the drop.)
    2) There are better ways and worse ways to solve any problem. And on that scale, I put this bailout somewhere near invading Iraq to find Bin Laden. Sure, it makes people feel good because we actually have something to shoot our high tech weapons at, but that is about it…

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  • Dave October 2, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    “not sure why congress thinks buying bad debt is a good idea…let the whole system collapse and self-correct. it’s not congresses job to keep the country’s economy out of natural high and low cycles..”

    Maybe because the last time congress let the credit markets collapse completely, we spent 10 years wallowing in a global depression? And the last time congress intervened in a national-scale credit market collapse (Mexico in the early 90′s) we actually made a tidy profit on the loans, and helped finance the budget surpluses of the late 90′s?

    Make no mistake, this bill will get passed. That it has to be sweetened this way to make representatives like Earl get on board is disappointing.

    “Congress thinks buying bad debt is a good idea because their major contributors are the ones holding the bad debt.”

    No – they think it’s a good idea because the central banks and nearly every macro economist says it is. Because the alternative is to leave companies like GE or GM that depend on short-term credit to do business every day high and dry.

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  • Dave October 2, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    ..Looks like Bikeportland readers don’t know much about politics.

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  • a.O October 2, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Either that or you don’t know much about politics, Dave. ;)

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  • Jeff Bernards October 2, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Bikers should stand proud and self supporting by just doing the right thing and riding their Bike. They shouldn’t add more layers of paper work and buracracey. Congress should raise the gas tax and fix our roads and build bike trails, you can choose to not pay the tax by riding your bike, there’s the savings.

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  • Darren October 2, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Maybe we all need to know more about economics.

    Or home gardening, canning, hunting, gathering, basket weaving…

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  • Paul Tay October 2, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    Yay, Earl! My Congressman voted NO too!

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  • [...] though Blumenauer’s bike bill is in the bailout, he’s indicating he will vote against the overall [...]

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  • Al from PA October 3, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Is this the consensus of the lauded Portland bike community–that we ape Andrew Mellon, vote down the bailout, and pedal heartily into the next depression? Way to go Portland! Are you hoping that the revived bike industry will insulate the Portland area economically? (I’m looking for some logic in your position…)

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  • canuck October 3, 2008 at 9:32 am

    A lot of people talk about teaching the offenders a lesson.

    The problem I see is that they most likely aren’t going to learn a lesson since they weren’t smart enough to know that you can’t buy a $400K house on a $40K salary. That applies to both the lenders and the borrowers.

    So what is this lesson going to cost? Bail em out and stabilize the markets or let the markets collapse.

    As someone who has a 401k and an IRA, and parents who are retired and living off Social Security and investments, I’d much rather go the bail out route, because there are going to be a lot of people who don’t deserve being taught a lesson who will be hurt by a market collapse. There are plenty of seniors out there who are on the edge.

    My view is if I have to teach them a lesson and they’re going to fail the test, I’d rather pay less out of my pocket for that education.

    Send them to community college (bail out) not a private university (market collapse).

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  • Coyote October 3, 2008 at 9:43 am

    Al from PA, the NW has always been somewhat isolated from the rest of US economy. Typically we enter a recession much later than the rest of the country, and effect is shallower but last years longer. We have a vastly different economy, with a much higher percentage of small entrepreneurs that run their businesses on a cash basis. So large business that float their payroll and capital expenditures on credit don’t rule the economy here.

    Compare Bike Portland and Streetsblog and you see what I mean. Jonathon is a solo show rely on himself to bring it every day. Streetsblog has a sugardaddy and a much larger staff. Now compare the content and you will see Jonathon has incredible productivity. Don’t get me wrong, I love Streetsblog too, but there is a fundamental difference in to the two business that have comparable products.

    Do I want to pedal into a depression? No, but I don’t want to pay for businesses that are not fiscally responsible. This bailout may accelerate the coming downfall instead of preventing it. A similar thing happened in the 1929 crash, a group of Wall Street investors tried to stop the crash by buying a huge amount of stock to prevent the stock prices from falling. It did not work, investors bailed out the second prices bobbed back up, and the action ultimately accelerated the crash. If you have money in one of these hedge funds, will you ride it out, or will you bail when you can?

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  • nuovorecord October 3, 2008 at 9:54 am

    FYI…Earl has indeed voted against the bill, as did DiFazio. They both had good reasons to approve it, but chose to vote their consciences. They’re the only two Oregon reps to vote at this hour. Still, it looks like it has the votes to pass. But it’s going to be close. I don’t think it can be said that Earl and Peter voted against it because they knew it would pass anyway. It’s not a slam-dunk by any means.

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/10/3/123238/585/356/618999

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  • Josh October 3, 2008 at 10:33 am

    So… the bailout bill just passed. Does anyone know if it still included the Bike Commuter Act language?

    It would be funny to me if the Bike Commuter Act passed over Earl Blumenauer’s “No” vote.

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  • canuck October 3, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Josh,

    Ironic not funny.

    Earl stuck by his guns and voted down the bail out with his bill attached.

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  • andy October 6, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Were can I go to read about this bill and not just the little bits and pieces that are posted around. How do I find out if my company can do this? Where do I find out if I can apply for this? Is it for companies like Microsoft and Boeing, or is it for everyone, or is it like every other thing the Gov does and it only benifits those that can kick back
    mnillons to the gov.

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  • [...] $700 billion Federal pork barrel bailout of Wall Street, including great coverage by Cyclelicious, BikePortland.org, StreetsBlog, and a survey of bicycle commuting attitudes by Outside Online. The bicycle commuter [...]

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