Update from the Hill

Published 25 Jan, 2013

The 113th Congress was sworn in January 3rd at noon for the first time to officially take the reins of government from its predecessors, who bear the distinction of being the least popular and least productive Congress in modern American history.

Eighty-two freshmen lawmakers in the House and 12 in the Senate were sworn in even though the party breakdown will remain mostly unchanged. Democrats will still control the Senate, 55 to 45, and Republicans will still have a majority in the House of Representatives, 233 to 200 (with two vacancies).

One of the most critical new appointments for the TWU is the new Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA). He is replacing out-going chair Florida Republican John Mica, who was term-limited in the post. Shuster has already shown a willingness to discuss a boost in the federal gasoline tax, unlike his predecessor Mica, who was an ultra-conservative. He is also interested in looking at other revenue enhancement mechanisms such as more tolling and tying energy production to infrastructure, even though such measures might not be passed by the full Committee.

Shuster reportedly has good working relationships with Democrats in both houses of Congress. Senator Boxer (D-CA), in charge of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee that handles the most significant parts of the upper chamber’s transportation legislation, had nothing but praise for the new chairman. Boxer said they have a “very nice working relationship” and have already talked about sitting down to lay groundwork for the next bill, which both lawmakers hope will be longer than the 27-month law signed by Obama this summer.

“It seems like he thinks everything should be on the table, which is good. Because we really have to open our mind to various ways to do this,” Boxer said in an interview.

However, Republicans in the House believe the new chairman is also a friend of fiscal conservatism. Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), a vocal negotiator on the most recent transportation law, said Shuster is no squishy Republican. Still Shuster has been quoted as saying “Transportation is not an inherently partisan issue”, so we will see what the future holds.

With the White House Shuster may continue Mica’s adversarial posture. Asked if he believes President Barack Obama needs to give formal direction to Congress on long-term legislation, which the White House has yet to do, Shuster said: “They haven’t taken the lead on much of anything around here in this town. So I’m not sure.” He has also stated that he is ready for the House to become the chief transportation writing chamber of Congress. His bi-partisan relationships will hopefully help him navigate the rocky politics that billion-dollar bills like those he will write are sure to elicit.

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