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Bike-friendly Dems would lose powerful positions in Republican controlled House

Posted by on November 2nd, 2010 at 1:44 pm


Jim Oberstar (L) and Peter DeFazio,
(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.

Rep. John Boehner

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.”

Transpo bill press conference-11

Oberstar during a visit to Portland
in September.

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.

Transpo bill press conference-4

Peter DeFazio

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.

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  • Paul Hanrahan November 2, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    A differnt approach is needed inthe rebuttal to Boehner et all stating that a bicycle bill “is not going to solve America’s energy problem.” The medical crisis in this country in the form of obesity and diabetes can be met head on with encouraging people to exercise by riding a bike. It’s a cheap easy and most importantly, enjoyable form of exercise. We need to support bicycling in our communities for this reason alone, the cost will pay for iteself in the form of healthy citizens.

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  • jim November 2, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    More important would be to get people back to work again and get the economy working. Bike stuff can come later when there is some legitimate money for it

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  • matt picio November 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Is anyone else amused by the fact that “Last Thursday at the Clown House” comes up in the list of possibly related posts for a post about Congress?

    Of course, our clowns have a bit more panache than the House of Representatives. 😉

    All ribbing aside, this is a good reason why there needs to be a “Plan B” for the local community regarding active transportation – even if democrats retain the House, there’s no guarantee that will translate into federal funding. In the current economic climate, low-cost or community-funded projects may become more prevalent.

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  • BURR November 2, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Although some funding comes from DC, most transportation politics as far as bicycling is concerned, are local.

    If PBOT doesn’t get federal money to help build the cycle tracks they want, I wouldn’t shed any tears.

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  • JAT in Seattle November 2, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    but Jim (@2) an economy built entirely on cheap oil won’t work anymore. And Republicans refuse to see that.

    While I believe our last clear chance is no longer ahead of us and we are damned if we do or damned if we don’t,… I’d rather that we did.

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  • Elliot November 2, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Can someone remind me of all the awesome federal bicycling, walking and transit legislation that was passed during the last two years while Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses?

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  • Barney November 2, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    A change in course to get the economy moving again has got to be the priority or there will be no money for any projects. Bike commuting could still increase however as we may all be riding our bikes to the soup kitchen!

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  • craig November 2, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Obesity, diabetes, and related illnesses are rallying cries for promotion of cycling, as well as other medical maladies–both physical and mental–that are worsened and/or caused by physical inactivity.

    Add to the list of rallying cries:

    – CHILDHOOD OBESITY (to be specific)


    – ROAD SAFETY (for autos too)








    – ELEMENTARY ACADEMIC SUCCESS (yes, kids who exercise for 15 minutes and breath outdoor air by bicycling to school arrive more invigoriated, alert, and with a more positive attitude)


    …the list just goes on and on…

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  • craig November 2, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    Congressional majority or no…

    I and YOU need to increase our participation as ambassadors for the many kinds of good that bicycling brings–to our friends, families, neighbors, schools, employers, and to our local and national elected officials, regardless of their party affiliation.

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  • jim November 2, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    unfortunately our economy does depend on cheap oil, you aren’t going to see a smelter plant run off of solar panels.
    Obama was on a hip hop station today telling everyone that things have gotten better in the last 2 yrs. I don’t buy that.

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  • matt picio November 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    jim (#9) – I don’t buy it either, but in a few years you’re not going to be able to run the smelter, period. No one is seriously addressing how to transform our society into one that doesn’t run on fossil fuels, and if we don’t figure out a way soon to do it gracefully, circumstances will force it on us violently.

    Reducing auto dependence and our energy footprint in general would give us a lot more breathing room to make the graceful change.

    Barney (#6) – How would you propose to do that without returning to the growth economy? We’re arguably unsustainable at current levels.

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  • Todd Boulanger November 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    The larger unknown for the next two years is not that Republicans my take over leadership slots for committees…but how will the newest R members from the tea party (and their state voters support for the tea party) may flavour discussions to cut everything but the DoD.

    The tea party leadership may end the remains of Congress’ ability to perform any non crisis compromise law [and budget] making. Some are concerned about the upcoming vote to expand the Federal Government’s ability to print more money / take on more short term debt without defaulting to the World. (Stuff Euros under your bed and live under a bridge then.)

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  • austincyclist November 2, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    All good points.. but in the gloom and doom of it all, the point missed, is with GOP back in control, gas will hike prices to $7+ a gallon, thus reducing traffic on the roads.. making formerly dangerous roads now safe for cycling.

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  • Barney November 2, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Mattster #10:

    Sustainable/Unsustainable are probably the most overused buzzwords in use today, particularly on this blog. To answer your question, without getting too political (since I am out of step with probably 90% of this blogs readers); if you want jobs you must reduce the burdens placed on small businesses. If you want energy independence you must diversify the sources you embrace, including coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydro, solar and wind. If you want to move forward towards a more efficient transportation structure you must not make the average car driver your enemy, which I see a lot of here. Not everybody can or will live with a small footprint, and they should not be demonized because of it.

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  • Paul Tay November 2, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    “If ya cain’t sell sex, sell fear.” ~~~Andy Clarke.

    Now fo’ sum really good news fo’ Oklahoma cyclists: As of midnight Monday, state law requires police tow uninsured motor vehicles.

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  • spare_wheel November 2, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    i gotta say that when i think about 1.8 trillion of quantitative easing (wealth transfer to the rich elite and banksters), hundreds of billions for maiden lane ii and iii (wealth transfer to banksters and the ultra rich), 300+ billion in funding of fnm and fre (wealth transfers to rentiers and bondholders),~1 trillion for pointless unwinnable wars (oil companies and multi-national mic) cycling is not high on my list of political priorities.

    as far as i am concerned the democratic party is in NO WAY the lesser of two evils.

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  • aaronf November 2, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    barney, if everyone has an American size footprint I think we would need to spread them across 4 Earths.

    Now, I hope that doesn’t make anyone feel demonized. Poor them.

    I think in order to reduce energy dependance we might look into reducing energy consumption as well, before the environment completely goes down the toilet and quality of life even declines among the wealthy.

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  • old&slow November 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    I am thrilled by the results tonight.
    The teabaggers will spend all their energy going after fellow Repubs, they don’t think are pure enough.
    The general public will despise them in no time.
    They will make Obama look like the greatest statesman in the world by 2012.
    Posters like jim will no longer be able to a troll here as he will have to defend these people who will do nothing for cycling, the environment, the country, just audition to be Fox news hosts like their Idol Palin and provide comic relief for the rest of us.
    Just an epic FAIL in the making.

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  • aaronf November 2, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    So now I guess red states will get a little extra helping of highway pork… unlesss they decide to get all noble and cut spending.

    I’m with spare wheel: same wine, new bottles

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  • Paul November 2, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    If Americans didn’t blow 25% of their income on transportation the economy would be in a lot better shape.

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  • Todd Boulanger November 2, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    Especially when most of that 25% comes from overseas (oil, autos, tires, and loans).

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  • elviaglass November 2, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    C’mon King County – John Boehner says the people’s voices have been heard tonight. Let’s tell him how much we don’t want Rossi.

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  • Merckxrider November 3, 2010 at 8:02 am

    Relax, ya’all, a Republican majority will probably continue overfunding our insane wars for oil–which we will almost certainly lose. When that happens and Americans have to pay world-standard prices for gasoline cycling will have it’s day.

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  • Joe November 3, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Red Five so true.

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  • Elliot November 3, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Looks like Oberstar might be out: Cravaack widens lead over Oberstar in 8th District.

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  • beth h November 3, 2010 at 10:40 am

    My Plan B has not changed.

    I will keep riding my bike.
    I will continue to eschew car ownership.
    I will live more thoughtfully and on less money.
    I will remember the election outcomes are temporary, and that I’m consderably younger than some of the folks who got us into this mess.
    I will be patient, and I will keep riding.

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  • Alex November 3, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Joe and RedFive,

    Divisive? I don’t know what is so divisive about it. The voting history and also the political rhetoric the republicans have been using is hardly bike friendly. Pointing out that the republicans haven’t had any sort of history pushing alternative methods of transportation forward and have obstructed it repeatedly is only as divisive as the people opposing it. I would say your comments are more divisive than this article and add little to the conversation.

    The point isn’t that the republicans are going to keep you from riding your bike. The point is that they use their resources to support things that are not pushing bike advocacy forward, which, as you may have not realized, is the main component to bikeportland’s popularity. Do you think the republicans have been pushing alternative transportation? I would like to hear about it because that message has been lost on me.

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  • Pete November 3, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    This article might have been actually relevant, had it been posted a week or so ago on this site. You know. BEFORE people had already mailed their ballots in! 😉

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  • Libertariansridebikestoo November 3, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Democrats keep majority in Senate in part because of coal-friendly West Virginia.

    There are a lot of ironies in life.

    Fact is that a lot of gas-guzzling SUVs have Obama stickers. Another fact is that many of the people competing in triathlons, races, and riding bikes and trails ARE Republican voters.

    It is progressives that too often paint transportation as another social issue. It isn’t really a social issue. Its not healthy to carry over feelings about other issues when they really don’t have anything to do with transportation.

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  • rixtir November 3, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Congrats !!! to Rep. DeFazio for pulling out a win despite the Koch brothers’ money (they might as well take the blame, as long as the outside funding intends to remain anonymous).

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  • Ruth November 3, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Transportation wouldn’t be a social issue…if Republicans like Boehner didn’t vote against bike initiatives and make comments against bikes.

    craig above hit the nail on the head. We are headed for healthcare Armageddon (no matter how the insurance or system is organized) if we don’t do something FAST to get more people active i.e. walking to school, riding bikes etc. I recently moved to a city that has bike infrastructure in place because I want to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

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  • craig November 4, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    The suspense in the Metro President results is killing me!

    With Multnomah County votes still being counted, Bob Stacey continues to erode Tom Hughes’s hair-thin lead. As of today 11:53am, with 97% of all votes counted, Stacey is now within just 273 votes of nosing past Hughes.

    I need a whiskey.

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  • craig November 4, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    273 votes calculates to less than one tenth of one percent of the total votes–0.07%

    Does anyone know if that slim margin mandates a recount?

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  • craig November 4, 2010 at 1:27 pm
  • jim November 4, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    I remember when John Kerry lost. People kept the Kerry stickers on their cars for the next 4 yrs. People can’t get rid of their Obama stickers fast enough. Does anybody really believe that things have getting better?

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  • Todd Boulanger November 4, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Jim…it is easier to dream about what could have been when it did not happen…vs. winning but then losing.

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