March 16, 2011

Rahall Addresses Transit Union Conference

Washington, D.C.– U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, today delivered remarks at the Amalgamated Transit Union’s 2011 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Below are Rahall’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Remarks of U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall
Democratic Ranking Member, House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure
Amalgamated Transit Union 2011 Legislative Conference
Capitol Hilton
March 16, 2011

I am pleased to join you today and want to commend all those who worked so hard to put this conference together.

Our great Nation has been built on the back of the laboring American.

No matter where you are from, what town, city, state or region of these United States…

Whether you’re a young bus driver beginning your career or a life-long member headed into retirement, every one of you here today – and our Brothers and Sisters back home – deserves our respect, our care, and our thanks for all that you do to keep our Nation moving.

Because of the work of your union, our job sites are safer; wages, hours, and working conditions have improved; workers are better trained and highly skilled; and communities and families are healthier.

But I don’t come today solely to discuss your many accomplishments.  While we moved our clocks forward one hour on Sunday, the Governor in Wisconsin turned back time 50 years for the American worker on Friday with the stroke of a pen.  What happened in Wisconsin is one of the uglier examples of how some are motivated by ideology – not just balancing a budget – and they have turned their backs on one of the very pillars of this great Nation: the America worker.

The spark that long ignited our national economic engine has been the imaginations, hard work, and determination of individual Americans. If you ask me, there is no substitute for the American worker.  They are – YOU are – the creators of our Nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership.

But, nationwide, there are those who fail to see this.  Despite poll after poll after poll that says the American people believe otherwise, there are those who believe that the fundamental right of collective bargaining is somehow an evil that must be rolled back. There are those whose stated goal is to break the back of organized labor.

But I am here to tell you that I stand with you. I stand with the workers of Wisconsin, of Ohio, of Indiana, of Florida, of every state throughout the Nation. I will fight tooth and nail – as I have done for decades – to prevent these attempts to strip American workers of their rights and freedoms.  And I have fought for transportation that entire time as well.

Transportation has always been a top priority of mine.  The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was the first Committee assignment I sought when I came to Washington and I have served as a Member of the Committee for 34 years – my entire tenure in Congress.  So, I was especially proud and humbled when my colleagues nominated me to serve as the top Democrat on the Committee for the 112th Congress.

My 3 decades on the Committee have taught me about the critical importance of public transportation. Investments in public transportation ease congestion, improve access, give struggling families an alternative to paying high gas prices, reduce air pollution, catalyze economic development, and, most importantly as we try to work our way out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, create jobs. Lots of good-paying American jobs.

I know there are concerns that the Republicans will go after 13(c) next. As states like Wisconsin discover that the federal government will not reward them for stripping the rights of workers, the Republicans in D.C. might next attempt to remove your most fundamental federal protections.

Many of you know that they have tried this before. When the Republicans took over Congress in 1995, they tried to repeal Section 13(c), even getting it included in an appropriations bill that made it to the floor of the House. But Democrats fought back, and the Republican plan failed. They may try again, but with your help we will make sure they fail again.

The Republican Study Committee, made up of a large majority of ultra conservative House Republicans, proposed to completely eliminate the New Starts Program. The House Republicans last month jammed through a spending bill that will destroy over 300,000 good-paying transportation jobs – jobs lost in every state of the union – by gutting investments in transportation that grow our economy.  The bill cuts one billion dollars from transit.

There is no doubt we need to tighten our budgetary belt.  But it is foolish to slash the job-creating muscle of our budget when we should be focusing on trimming the fat. We must continue to invest in America’s future if we are serious about retiring the debt of the past.

Certainly, the biggest hurdle to Congress passing a multi-year surface transportation bill is the matter of funding.  It is my opinion that all funding and financing options must be on the table.   We must find ways to ensure that a dedicated pool of federal revenue sufficient to meet the growing needs of our aging transportation system; we can’t depend on bonding and borrowing alone.  As well, any financing mechanism should include a formula of fairness to commerce and commuters alike – from our most rural corners to our most urban cities.

Unfortunately, our efforts to create certainty and advance investment in surface transportation may have suffered a significant setback at the beginning of the current Congress when the new Republican Leadership changed the rules of the House regarding the Highway Trust Fund.  The change undid protections that had been crafted through the leadership of former Republican Congressman Bud Shuster to ensure that gas tax monies that flowed into the Highway Trust Fund would be used to finance transportation investments, and not as a way to mask the size of the Federal deficit.

The idea was simple: Gas taxes paid at the pump to improve highway and transit systems must be used for that purpose.  I fought side by side with Mr. Shuster for this protection in 1998 and I was disappointed when the Republicans broke the ‘trust’ of the Highway Trust Fund as their first act of the 112th Congress.

Addressing our transportation investment needs will require political will and courage to address the challenges and realities that have been avoided for too long.  I strongly supported the Administration’s plan to invest $556 billion to restore and build a transportation system for the 21st century because I think it’s the appropriate size and scope.  I was disappointed, however, that they chose to punt the ball on how to provide the necessary funding.  I take them at their word that they will work with Congress to do so.

Let’s be honest with ourselves – there is no free lunch.  When Republicans say that we are going to have to “do more with less”, I fear they mean less worker protections, less funding for safety, and less investments in America’s future.

America can continue to lead the worldwide economy and win the future, but we must at least invest as much in ourselves as our competitor nations are investing in their own futures.  Our competitors aren’t waiting; we must not wait any longer.

We can boost competitiveness and trim the budget, but both will require concerted thought, backbone, and willingness to compromise and reach a consensus.  Crafting and passing a new surface transportation bill that addresses our transportation needs sooner, rather than later, must be a priority.

As we move forward with such a bill, I will continue to stand arm in arm with my Brothers and Sisters of the ATU and working Americans to help ensure that the benefits our hardworking men and women were promised become a reality.

Thank you for everything you do to keep America’s economy moving.  The transit community has no better advocates than the ones I see in this room right now.

I am honored to be part of this work – representing the citizens of southern West Virginia and the transportation needs of our Nation.  I look forward to our opportunities and successes that lie ahead.

Thank you.