Editorial March 6, 2015

TheWeekinCongress.com

Editorial

HR 479: Off No, On Aye

“Crippling congestion and poor roads cost businesses and commuters almost $115 billion each year in wasted time and fuel–up”

The House moved forward on a transportation bill this week that, frankly, looks like a pretty good deal.

The bill HR 479 appropriates $ 7.2 billion for Amtrak with special attention on its very successful service in the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C. and Boston, the national line and efforts by states to improve passenger rail service. In the bill there are $5.3 billion for grants to Amtrak, $1.2 billion for grants to states for intercity rail projects, and $625 million to renegotiate and prepay a portion of Amtrak’s nonfederal debt. The idea of reducing the rail services debt is a particularly good one because it is intended to free up that money for more Amtrak improvement.

What really captures the eye on this bill is its attention to detail; Amtrak’s unimpressive food service on some trains is targeted for improvement. The bill even requires Amtrak to issue a Request for Proposals to increase revenues by seeking private sector entities to utilize Amtrak-owned right-of-ways for telecom systems, energy distribution systems, and other activities. Further along the bill states, “Rail stations are often located in desirable downtown locations and can become focal points for significant residential, commercial, and retail development, and enhance transportation options in communities. For example, Denver undertook a half a billion dollar project to develop a commuter and intercity rail terminal, a regional bus facility, new light rail platforms, and improved public spaces, surrounded by significant private real estate development.” The bill states.

 “With the move to a lines-of-business approach for authorizing federal support for Amtrak, all costs and revenues of the company must be allocated to the newly created accounts. This new section requires Amtrak to establish and maintain internal controls to ensure that all costs and revenues are allocated to either the NEC or National Network account.” This provision alone gives some hope that the chronically in debt but obviously necessary service can begin to make money, improve, and expand.

As enthusiastic as legislative text is capable, the bill emphasizes the benefits of rail travel; the bill states, “…passenger rail presents one of the best hopes for relieving the country’s congested highways and airspace. In 2006, the United States population reached 300 million people, and by 2039 the country is expected to break the 400 million mark. The population concentration in the nation’s urban areas is increasing, in particular on the eastern seaboard and the Northeast Corridor (NEC) between Washington, D.C., New York City, and Boston. Congestion costs also continue to rise. Crippling congestion and poor roads cost businesses and commuters almost $115 billion each year in wasted time and fuel–up from $24 billion in 1982. In addition, Americans spend more than 4 billion hours annually stuck in traffic.”

4 Billion hours stuck in traffic annually. That may be where the bill could possibly fall short; if you take the Amtrak #176 from southern Virginia to Union Station in Washington, D.C. the trip takes 31/2 hours, the same amount of time by car. Amtrak’s rates for the round trip equal about what you would spend on gasoline and then you would add taxi or metro costs once in the city. Senate lawmakers should take into consideration reducing some of the local transportation fees to make it even more economical to ‘take the train’.##

 

Foreign Affairs

Atlantic Council ISIS War Game Reflects Real World Policy

By: John Grady

John Grady

John Grady

“Goldilocks plus”—not too hot, not too cold—was the way retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright described the approach of the United States is using in confronting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS or ISIL) in a war game set up by the Atlantic Council.

It is very similar to the approach the Obama administration is using. More….

Senate History

The American Senate

Lindsay Rogers (1926)

The U.S. Senate, almost alone among legislative assemblies of the world, has had a unique tradition of unlimited debate called the filibuster. A filibuster is the use of time-consuming parliamentary tactics by one Senator or a minority of Senators to delay, modify, or defeat proposed legislation.

It was not until 1917 that the Senate attempted to rein in unlimited debate when it adopted a cloture rule (Rule 22). The rule provided for two-thirds of the Senators to end debate on a particular subject. The first cloture vote was on the Treaty of Versailles debate. Senator Gilbert Hitchcock presented a cloture petition to the Senate on November 13, 1919 and two days later, cloture was adopted by a vote of 78-16, leading to a rejection of the treaty.

In 1925, newly inaugurated Vice President Charles Dawes, the president of the Senate, unsuccessfully sought to change the number required for cloture to a simple majority of Senators. Dawes argued that “filibustering contributes to multiplicity of laws” and as a result of filibustering, “the laws which are passed often do not receive due consideration.”

Political scientist Lindsay Rogers disagreed with Dawes; in fact, Rogers advocated the use of the filibuster in his 1926 book, The American Senate. The publication of The American Senate was received as an eloquent discourse on the tradition of unlimited debate and the rights of the minority. While legislation is often moved through the Senate through unanimous consent agreements, the importance of unlimited debate cannot be overstated. Rogers argued that “complete freedom of debate and the absence of closure except as a real emergency measure are more indispensable than in respect of legislation.”

To Rogers, the power the minority could draw from unlimited debate was the only effective way the legislature could act as a check upon the executive branch. “. . . [U]nrestricted debate in the Senate is the only check upon presidential and party autocracy. The devices that the framers of the Constitution so meticulously set up would be ineffective without the safeguard of senatorial minority action.”

Three quarters of a century later, as the world has changed and the Senate has evolved, the work remains an important window into the historic U.S. Senate.## More Senate history….

Hamilton on Congress

Learning to Be a Citizen

By Lee H. Hamilton

Hamilton

Hamilton

The question usually comes toward the end of a public meeting. Some knotty problem is being discussed, and someone in the audience will raise his or her hand and ask, “Okay, so what can I do about it?”

I love that question. Not because I’ve ever answered it to my satisfaction, but because it bespeaks such a constructive outlook. Democracy is no spectator sport and citizens are not passive consumers. More…

Quotes on the Issues

ISIS

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said:  “Over the past year, the developments in CENTCOM have been troubling. The rise of ISIL, questions about the future security situation in Afghanistan, the Government of Yemen’s fall to Iranian backed rebels, and the prospect of a deal ratifying Iran as a threshold nuclear power all have created serious stress on our strategic position and on our alliances.

Netanyahu Speech to Congress

“While Netanyahu’s address has caused a rift with President Barack Obama’s administration, both sides took steps over the weekend to defuse public tensions. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Netanyahu “is welcome to speak in the United States,” while the prime minister affirmed his respect for the president on Saturday. Nevertheless, the political repercussions of the confrontation between Netanyahu and the White House continue to reverberate in Washington: On Sunday, the pro-Israel group AIPAC broke with the Obama administration, laying out a strategy to disrupt any nuclear deal by working through Congress.” Foreign Policy – The Middle East Daily – March 2, 2015

“My speech is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office that he holds. I have great respect for both,” Netanyahu said.” March 1, 2015 Washington Post.

“Iran is the most dangerous state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and I appreciate a leader who recognizes the threat that exists. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has correctly stated that Iran must never be allowed to build a nuclear weapon,” said Harper. “America and Israel should have a shared goal to do whatever is necessary to prevent the threats we face from Iran and radical Islam. Why does our President insist on making a deal with Iran, a country that seeks to destroy both America and Israel? Iran has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted.” Rep Greg Harper (R-MS-3rd)

“Israel’s security is absolutely at the forefront of all of our minds but frankly, so is the security of all the other countries in the region, so is our security in the United States,” Secretary of State John Kerry 2/1/2015 Washington Post.

“We share a common goal of ensuring that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons,” Jarrett said, and disagree with Netanyahu only over “the tactics of how to get there.” Senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.