(shown here at Cycle Oregon 2007)
would both lose key leadership
positions if the Republicans
take over the House.
(Photos © J. Maus)
A big issue at stake with tonight’s elections is how a Republican-controlled House of Representatives — a result many feel is foregone conclusion — would impact bicycling and active transportation programs, funding, and policies.
With that transfer of power, Republicans would also assume leadership of the all-important House Committees that set the rules of the game for everything from tax policy (Bike Commuter Benefit for instance) to infrastructure spending priorities.
At the center of what’s at stake for bicycling and active transportation are three men: John Boehner, Jim Oberstar, and Peter DeFazio.
Boehner is currently the House minority leader and he would likely assume the Speaker of the House position (which Nancy Pelosi currently holds) if the Republicans take over. Boehner has chimed in about bicycling several times in the past few years. In January 2009 he referenced how widening highways would help American families and likened “bike paths” to “beautification projects.”
Back in 2007, when the Bike Commuter Tax Benefit was on the floor, Boehner ridiculed the bill. After suggesting that the bill’s champion, Earl Blumenauer recuse himself from voting on it simply because he rides to work, Boehner went into an explanation of how the bill “is not going to solve America’s energy problem.”
On the committee side of things, Jim Oberstar — if he manages to retain his seat — would lose his position as Chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee (a position he has held since 2006). I recall a speech in Portland by Oberstar back in 2008 when he looked at the crowd and said,
“I’m Chairman! I don’t have to go and bend an ear and ask anybody… we don’t have to work behind the scenes, we don’t need subterfuges, we’re going to do these things!”
What a difference a few years makes.
Peter DeFazio is another champion of bicycle issues who could lose Chairmanship of an important House committee. DeFazio is more likely to retain his seat than Oberstar, but he won’t hold onto his Chairmanship of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee (which is under the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee).
From his district in Eugene, DeFazio has been a key player in growing the pie for bikes on the national level.
The influence of both DeFazio and Oberstar in crafting the next (and long overdue) surface transportation bill will be greatly diminished when/if they lose these committee positions.
“I think we move from offense to defense… We’ll have to be vigilant and absolutely on top of our game to make the case that investing in bike/ped projects is good national policy.”
— Andy Clarke, League of American Bicyclists
Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists (and formerly of the Federal Highway Administration) put it a different way. Asked what the impacts to bicycling would be if Republicans take over the House, he said “I think we move from offense to defense.” Losing the chair positions of DeFazio and Oberstar and putting bike-friendly Democrats into the minority “looks bad” he said, especially because the likes of Boehner, (House Minority Whip) Eric Cantor, Rep. John Mica and other Republicans are all on record as wanting to strip bike funding programs.
Clarke and other bike movement bigwigs think it’s very likely that another battle of survival for the Transportation Enhancements program (TE) could be brewing. That program is a key active transportation funding mechanism (about $800 million in projects last year) that is part of the existing transportation bill and it has become common for Republicans (not to mention car-advocacy group AAA) to talk of stripping it out altogether.
Are TE and other programs like Safe Routes to Schools at risk of being de-funded?
“There’s obviously a risk of that happening. We’ll have to be vigilant and absolutely on top of our game to make the case that investing in bike/ped projects is good national policy. And we’ll have to redouble our efforts to work with transit advocates, Mayors and local elected officials to show how much support there is for these programs.”
Clarke also reminds us that TE has been under attack before “and it has survived because its popular and it works.” Clarke feels they’re ready for the fight if and when it comes. “We’ve got a good defense – and who knows, we might even run an interception or two back for touchdowns if people show up to the National Bike Summit and keep telling their elected representatives – Democrat or Republican – that these programs work and are critical.”
Stay tuned for more election coverage tomorrow as results come in.
UPDATE: Oberstar has lost his seat by about 4,000 votes.