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Legislative Update December 2010

A Sad Goodbye

As reported last month, a serious loss to the causes supported by the BLET occurred with the unexpected defeat of Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In an hour-long interview before Thanksgiving, the Congressman lamented his loss and the committee work he is leaving unfinished. He stated that he considers the failure to pass the multi-surface transportation bill that moved out of subcommittee in 2009 as one of his biggest unfinished agendas. Because of the bipartisan ability and long-time working relationship between Chairman Oberstar and ranking member Mica, and their ability to achieve common goals, he believes that the change in leadership and his defeat will result in longer delays in legislation.

The Chairman stated, “Going forward, you’ll have to rebuild all those personal relationships and committee structural relations. And that will take time and will take something out of the process.” He was adamant that the country must push forward in developing high-speed rail. Following a recent trip to France using the country’s high speed rail service, Train à Grande Vitesse, or TGV, he said you could put a glass of wine on the table and it wouldn’t flutter, but returning to the United States passenger rail system was like returning to a third world country.

Before concluding the interview, Congressman Oberstar told reporters that he did not see his name on any lobbying firm in the future, but rather prefers “to be of service to transportation in the broadest policy sense . . . and particularly to safety.”

We are grateful for his 36 years of service, his concern for the safety of railroad workers, and his belief in moving rail infrastructure into the 21st Century. He will be sorely missed by all of us in the rail industry.

2011 Budget

Even though we are already two months into the government’s new fiscal year, the 111th Congress has yet to pass a budget. Despite a Democratic majority, it is unknown whether they will be able to put a budget in place before adjournment. As I’m sure you are all aware, this Congress has been one of the more contentious in our nation’s history, and with the Republicans salivating in anticipation of taking over the House next month, it is not looking promising that the Democrats will be able to gain the necessary votes to pass a budget.

Although the economy is slowly recovering, the talking points about controlling the deficit are alive and well. There is absolutely nothing wrong with controlling our spiraling deficit, but you can’t have it both ways. The Republican party wants to cut everything, but they refuse to relent on allowing tax cuts to expire on the very wealthiest Americans that would contribute $700 Billion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

Perhaps there could be a compromise – give the wealthiest Americans their tax breaks in exchange for their promise to spend them on rail infrastructure. Works for everyone, right? Of course, that’s silly, but it gives you something to think about.

During the holidays, once Congress adjourns sine die, enjoy yourselves, your families and take some time to focus on the things that are most important to you in your life.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Ramadan, and Happy New Year!

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