Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 30, 2015

Posts by Tom Curry

384 Posts

January 30, 2015

Overseas Cash Alluring Idea For Infrastructure Funds

Rep. John Delaney, D - Md., during his 2012 campaign. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. John Delaney, D – Md., during his 2012 campaign. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In his Fiscal Year 2015 budget last March, President Obama said he wanted to use “one-time transition revenue resulting from business tax reform” to pay for highways, roads and transit systems.

Now Rep. John Delaney, D- Md., has introduced a bill that fills in details of a concept about which Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, and several others have been thinking aloud: pay for infrastructure with tax revenue from repatriated profits of U.S. corporations.

But Delaney said his bill is “much more comprehensive” than what Obama sketched out last March.

Delaney’s measure would impose an 8.75 percent tax on overseas profits and would, he said, raise $170 billion, more than enough to both fill the shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund for six years and to create a new $50 billion infrastructure funding entity.

It would also give Congress what he called “a nice long runway” for lawmakers to devise ways to cope with the anticipated decline in revenues from taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.

Full story

January 29, 2015

Kissinger A Reminder Of Strategic/Transit Trade-Offs

Protesters confront former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Protesters confront former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The connection between international strategy and mass transit might seem tenuous.

But Thursday’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Iran, nuclear weapons, and related matters was a reminder of the lasting tension between spending money on domestic needs, such as transit, and overseas commitments.

In 1969, Kissinger faced the same choices when he served as President Nixon’s national security.

In his memoirs, White House Years, Kissinger writes that he and Nixon in 1969 had to decide what U.S. strategy would be in Europe to defend against potential Russian, (or Soviet as it was then) aggression.

One option was to build up U.S. nuclear forces based in Europe; another option was to build up U.S. conventional (non-nuclear) forces stationed there. Full story

Governors Float Plan To Replace Notorious Bridge

President Obama speaks to a crowd in front of the aging Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River  in 2011 as part of his campaign for a job creation bill. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

President Obama speaks to a crowd in front of the aging Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River in 2011 as part of his campaign for a job creation bill. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

When a politician’s theme of the day is “aging infrastructure,” the default backdrop for the photo op is often the obsolete and overcrowded Brent Spence Bridge which connects Covington, Ky. and Cincinnati, Ohio.

On Wednesday Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, a Republican, offered a plan to revamp the existing bridge, build a new bridge, and improve interstate approaches to the spans which cross the Ohio River.

The plan calls for:

  • Using a public-private partnership to design, build, maintain, and finance the project.
  • Splitting costs and toll revenues evenly between Ohio and Kentucky.
  • Providing a 50 percent discount in toll rates for frequent commuters.

According to governors’ statement, inflation is driving up the project’s cost (currently $2.6 billion) by $7 million every month.

Full story

Senate Rejects Climate Change Infrastructure Measure

Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., answers questions from reporters (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., answers questions from reporters (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate went on record Wednesday as disagreeing with the idea that “more frequent and intense extreme weather events” are damaging the nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, and ports.

This was despite the billions of dollars in damage to the subways, highways, and other infrastructure in New York and New Jersey by Super Storm Sandy in 2012, to cite just one case.

By a vote of 47 to 51, with 60 votes needed for passage, the Senate rejected a sense of the Senate amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill offered by Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., which wouldn’t have directly affected funding or regulation, but which included the perhaps fatal words “climate change.”

Coons tried to assuage opposition by noting “this amendment does not speak to the human role in climate change or emissions; it simply acknowledges that climate change is having an impact on our infrastructure.”

Full story

January 28, 2015

Blizzard Economics Creates Winners And Losers

Snow covers a car in Cambridge, Mass. on Tuesday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Snow covers a car in Cambridge, Mass. on Tuesday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The blizzard that hit parts of the Northeast Tuesday may have been a bit of bust for New York City (9.8 inches in Central Park) and led to charges that Gov. Andrew Cuomo over-reached by ordering roads and mass transit to be shut down at 11pm Monday.

But the nor’easter dumped a lot of snow on places such as Southampton, N.Y. (29 inches) and Groton, Conn. (24 inches).

And according to the U.S. Travel Association, the cancelled flights cost the economy $230 million in passengers’ lost activity.

Each cancelled domestic flight costs the economy $31,600, according to a formula U.S. Travel researchers developed. The estimate is based on airline traffic and on-time data, air traveler behavior and other data collected through surveys, and U.S. Travel proprietary economic models.

The figure accounts for the passengers on more than 7,000 cancelled flights and the spending they would otherwise inject into the economy, but it does not calculate the impact on the airline industry.

Then again, storms such as Tuesday’s do create value for some people and some sectors of the economy.

In cities and towns from New Jersey to Maine there are tens of thousands of dollars spent on plowing and salting the roads. In one part of Massachusetts, hired contract plowers are paid $75 to $140 an hour. Full story

Boeing: Fuel Savings Not Sole Factor In Aircraft Buys

Crews work on the engine of an Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner last summer in Everett, Wash. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Crews work on the engine of an Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner last summer in Everett, Wash. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Lower oil prices have not changed airlines’ plans to buy fuel-efficient Boeing airplanes, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said Wednesday.

“We see low fuel prices and positive traffic trends as beneficial to our industry and growth prospects,” McNerney said during a conference call with investment analysts and reporters.

He said fuel efficiency isn’t the sole factor in airlines’ decisions to buy new planes.

McNerney said last October, when oil prices were at about $85 a barrel, that they would need to fall “a long way from where we are now” before “you begin to see even [an] incremental impact” on airlines’ demand for more fuel-efficient aircraft.

The Brent global benchmark is now under $50 a barrel.

Full story

Left Versus Right On How To Build Infrastructure

Traffic on Interstate Highway 110 through downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Traffic on Interstate Highway 110 through downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Two sharply contrasting views of transportation policy were on display in Washington Tuesday.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I- Vt., announced his Rebuild America Act, a $1 trillion, five-year plan to repair and build transit systems, bridges, highways, railroads, ports, the national electric power grid, and national parks.

He did not include financing proposals in the bill.

“What I wanted to do was focus on the need to build the infrastructure and not start the debate right away on how we fund it. There are many ways to fund it and honest people can have honest differences of opinion,” Sanders told reporters.

Sanders serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee which will be working on a highway reauthorization bill this year. He was skeptical about proposals to use repatriated profits of U.S. corporations now held overseas to pay for infrastructure.

He also said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D- Md., the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, is a co-sponsor of his bill.

Meanwhile, the limited-government, free-enterprise think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, issued its 2015 legislative agenda.

Full story

January 27, 2015

Senators Urging Obama To Fill TSA Vacancy

A TSA agent checks a traveler's identification at a TSA Pre-check lane at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A TSA agent checks a traveler’s identification at a TSA Pre-check lane at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, are joining forces to urge President Barack Obama to nominate a head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The bipartisan letter to Obama says that given an “intensified terror threat and the vacancy set into motion when former Administrator [John] Pistole announced his plans to retire over three months ago, it is critical that TSA have strong leadership now to set priorities, make tough decisions, and manage its large workforce.”

Full story

CBO Reminder To Congress: Infrastructure Funding 101

House Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly rebuffed the idea of a fuels tax increase (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly rebuffed the idea of a fuels tax increase (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In its annual budget and economic forecast Monday the Congressional Budget Office reminded members of Congress of some of the basics that set the bounds of the infrastructure debate:

  • While federal spending on highways and mass transit has been running at about $53 billion a year in recent years, “annual receipts from highway taxes, which are largely dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund, are projected to stay at $38 billion or $39 billion each year between 2015 and 2025….” Thus the shortfall is about $14 billion a year.
  • CBO predicts that over the long term gasoline consumption will decline, as vehicles’ fuel economy improves. This will “more than offset increases in the number of miles that people drive stemming from both population increases and real income gains per person.”
  • But just for this year, the drop in gasoline prices (down nearly 40 percent from this same point last year) will cause drivers to drive more miles, so CBO projects that “gasoline use and tax revenues will be roughly in line with last year’s figures….”
  • CBO predicts that oil prices will rise again later this year – a forecast which some private-sector economists and investors don’t agree with at all.

Full story

White House Landing Highlights Calls For Drone Rule

A member of the Secret Service's Uniformed Division sits in his car on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House on Monday (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

A member of the Secret Service’s Uniformed Division sits in his car on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House on Monday (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The lobbying and advocacy effort to get the Federal Aviation Administration to issue its long-awaited proposed rule on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) got a bit of a dramatic fillip early Monday when a small quad copter landed on the White House grounds.

The Washington Post reported that the Secret Service said a person whom it didn’t identify, called at 9:30 a.m. Monday to “self-report that they had been in control of the quad copter device that crashed on the White House grounds early this morning. The individual has been interviewed by Secret Service agents and been fully cooperative. Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device.”

But Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D- N.Y., said, “With the discovery of an unauthorized drone on the White House lawn, the eagle has crash-landed in Washington; there is no stronger sign that clear FAA guidelines for drones are needed.”

Full story

As Blizzard Hits, Cuomo Bans Travel

Men delivering packages struggle in blowing snow in Manhattan's financial district on Monday as the city braced itself for a blizzard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Men delivering packages struggle in blowing snow in Manhattan’s financial district on Monday as the city braced itself for a blizzard. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A massive nor’easter was hitting New York, New Jersey, and New England Monday night and Tuesday. That means that mass transit and the highways, at least in the New York City area, were closed, as of 11pm Monday.

In a press briefing late Monday afternoon, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat just elected to his second term, said he’d ordered commuter railroad and subway service to stop at 11pm Monday to allow train cars to be moved to safe storage locations “so that when the weather does leave we’re in a position for the system to start back up.”

He said the city and state had learned from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that it was far better to protect subway and commuter trains so that service could be resumed as quickly as possible.

He also ordered a travel ban on highways and roads in a 13-county area, including the five boroughs of New York City, except for emergency vehicles.

“If you violate this state order it’s a possible misdemeanor; it’s fines up to $300,” he told a press conference.

Full story

January 26, 2015

Bust The Aircraft Duopoly? Not Quite Yet

The new Bombardier C series aircraft is shown in Mirabel, Quebec as it is due to take off for the first time on Sept. 16, 2013. (Photo: Clement Sabourin/AFP/Getty Images)

The new Bombardier C series aircraft is shown in Mirabel, Quebec as it is due to take off for the first time on Sept. 16, 2013. (Photo: Clement Sabourin/AFP/Getty Images)

Two competitors are aiming to break the hold that the Boeing-Airbus duopoly has on the market for long-haul jets, but one, China, is still years away from entering the global market, while the other, the Canadian company Bombardier, has been facing delays with its new midsized passenger jet.

The Financial Times asks Monday whether the difficulties Bombardier has had with its new C series passenger jet “are merely the kind of short-term blip that other aircraft manufacturers have experienced – and overcome – on big new projects, or a long-term risk to the company’s viability.”

Full story

By Tom Curry Posted at 1:45 p.m.
Airports, Aviation, Travel

Decline in Coal Shipments Hurting Norfolk Southern

A coal mound at the coal-fired Big Sandy Power Plant in Cattletsburg, Ky.  (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

A coal mound at the coal-fired Big Sandy Power Plant in Cattletsburg, Ky. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

Coal is still the single biggest source of energy for the electricity that makes it possible for you to read this story.

In 2014, coal supplied 39 percent of U.S. electricity generation.

And despite all you’ve read about rail shipments of crude oil, coal is “still by far the largest commodity volume moved by rail,” according to the Energy Information Administration, with about seven times more carloads of coal shipped than carloads of oil.

When your business relies on shipping coal, as does Norfolk Southern’s, it hurts when utilities to switch from coal to natural gas. So it was no surprise that coal was a dominant theme of the fourth quarter earnings conference call that Norfolk Southern executives did with investment analysts Monday.

Full story

Week Ahead: The State Of Freight Rail, Boeing’s Future

An Air New Zealand 787-9 Dreamliner (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

An Air New Zealand 787-9 Dreamliner (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Freight rail efficiency and the resilience of the nation’s infrastructure will be getting attention this week as will the continuing saga of falling oil prices.

Monday

Norfolk Southern, which serves 22 states mostly east of the Mississippi, announces its quarterly earnings. The railroad is a big carrier of coal and serves 24 automobile assembly plants, 14 of which belong to Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, according to Standard & Poor’s.

Tuesday

January is far away on the calendar from hurricane season but catastrophic storms like Super Storm Sandy in 2012 do have a lasting cost for federal and state governments by wrecking expensive infrastructure.

Case in point: the South Ferry subway station in Lower Manhattan was underwater for a week and was severely damaged by Sandy, which arrived just three years after a $500 million project to modernize that station had been completed.

A House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee panel holds a hearing on how to reduce the impact of catastrophe storms and accelerate recovery from them. On the witness list: current Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate and former FEMA head David Paulison.

Wednesday

Aircraft maker Boeing announces its earnings for the fourth quarter of its fiscal year.

Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said last October that oil prices would need to fall “a long way from where we are now” before “you begin to see even [an] incremental impact” on airlines’ demand for more fuel-efficient aircraft.

But the price of crude has fallen from about $85 a barrel in October to less than $50 a barrel today.

Boeing delivered a record 723 commercial aircraft to airlines in 2014. One Boeing executive recently said annual deliveries “will grow easily to over 900 over the next few years.”

One reason Boeing can meet the booming demand is its non-union plant in North Charleston, S.C.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is trying to dissuade Boeing workers in her state from joining the union which represents Boeing workers in Washington state.

Also Wednesday morning, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee holds a hearing on safety and efficiency on freight railroads.

Among the witnesses are Frank Lonero of CSX Transportation and Chris Jahn, president of The Fertilizer Institute.

January 23, 2015

A Look Back At The Week: Drone Delays, Smoky Subway

A consultant holds a drone made by HiTec during the first-ever Drone Expo in Los Angeles on December 13, 2014.  (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

A consultant holds a drone made by HiTec during the first-ever Drone Expo in Los Angeles on December 13, 2014. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

We spent a lot of time this week reporting on something that’s up in the air: the yet-to-be-issued notice of proposed rule-making (NPRM) for small remotely piloted aircraft, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles.

That NPRM will be a big step as the Federal Aviation Administration moves toward a final rule allowing commercial use of drones.

But the FAA may not issue a final rule until 2017 – which drone industry ally Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D- Ore. says is “unacceptable.”

Michael Drobac, head of the Small UAV Coalition, said “technology is being stifled in the U.S., but only in the U.S.”

At a House hearing Wednesday the FAA’s man in charge of UAV integration James Williams said the rule must “go through the regulatory process that has been put in place by Congress and we’re working our way through that.” He added, “You’ve got to understand this is a very complex rulemaking.”

Meanwhile airports were one part of the nation’s infrastructure that did not get explicit mention by President Obama in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night – but Congress is going to pass or at least try to pas, an FAA reauthorization bill this year and it could embody significant policy changes.

On the ground or below it, travelers are at risk in our nation’s capital as a fatal Jan. 12 smoke incident on the Metro made dramatically apparent.

D.C.-area members of Congress are pledging to keep a wary watch over Metro managers as they work to fix the safety problems.

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