Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., will be the next chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and he is a good choice for House Republicans. He is firmly in the conservative fiscal camp and unafraid to say so. He was among the few House members who lingered in the lobby outside the House floor Friday trashing President Obama's recent proposal to avert the "fiscal cliff." He said it would do nothing to solve budget problems. Obama included a $50 infrastructure bank in the proposal. Shuster rejected it with a wave of a hand. There will be no "stimulus," even for infrastructure, in the final budget package, he said.
Shuster enters his chairmanship with the same problems confronted by the outgoing chairman, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who found himself hamstrung by Republican leaders who wouldn't allow any extra money to be spent for the nation's surface transportation system. Despite Mica's best efforts, House members' inability to agree on a trimmed-down five-year highway bill left the chamber at loose ends when it came to negotiations with the Senate. They managed to eke out an agreement on a two-year measure that barely covers costs.
"They're all difficult lifts," Mica said of the transportation chief's role these days. Gone are the salad days of his predecessors--former Reps. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Bill Shuster's dad, Bud Shuster, R-Pa.--who had the power to craft massive highway bills with lots of pet projects tucked in to sweeten the deal.
Mica predicted that Shuster has four years to get his ducks in a row for the next highway bill, even though the current measure expires at the end of 2014. "But remember, it takes a year to two years after that to do a bill," Mica said. "Hopefully we'll get the fiscal issues resolved by then."
That's a big if, but Mica is right that anything can happen in four years. For now, Shuster can content himself with batting down the president's ideas. (How many times has Obama's infrastructure proposal been offered and rejected?)
What should committee members be focusing on next year when it comes to transportation? Will it really be another four years before a highway bill gets done? Will a new chairman breathe life into the committee? How should legislators confront the niche transportation issues like rail, transit, and aviation? What makes a good transportation leader?