“We are at a tipping point here”

Chairman Shuster issues warning about nation’s aging infrastructure and says federal government has a constitutional responsibility to keep transportation system strong

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Bill Shuster (PA-9) delivered a speech to a breakfast meeting of The Ripon Society yesterday morning, issuing a warning about the nation’s aging infrastructure and arguing that the federal government has a constitutional responsibility to keep America’s transportation system strong. Shuster serves as Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a position that his colleagues elected him to this past November, and one, he noted at the outset of his remarks, that he is especially privileged to hold. 

“It really is a great honor for me to be able to follow in my father’s footsteps,” Shuster stated. “As you know, he was extremely effective as Chairman. But as I have told people, times have changed. In his day, it was all about power. Today, it’s all about finesse. I like to consider myself a finesse forward. And as we start off the Congress, one of the things I want to try and rebuild is bipartisanship. Our committee is one of the few committees over the years that has operated in a bipartisan way. Nick Joe Rahall and I have known each other for a long time. We’ve begun to rebuild that. Working on this WRDA bill together I think is going to be proof that we can do things in a bipartisan way. But transportation is important. It’s important to all of us — it’s that simple.” 

“I was talking to a gentleman from Louisiana who is in the pharmaceutical business. He started talking about his business and he had 58 trucks, and getting here and getting there and he stopped all of a sudden and said, ‘You know, I never really thought about it, but I’m really in the transportation business.’ And he is, and we all are. Everybody is. Even that Mom or Dad at home this morning that didn’t leave the house. They got the Cheerios and the milk and poured it on the kid’s cereal. That all came from the transportation system. So it’s vital to all of us. 

“In the last Congress, I think we made great strides when it came to passing MAP-21. Chairman Mica did a very good job doing what he had to do. He went into this legislative process with a down economy, no earmarks, and as I like to say, with not only one arm tied behind his back, but with two arms tied behind his back. It was very difficult. I think we came out with a bill that streamlined things. We moved the ball forward. 

“But I believe we are at a tipping point here. When you look at what the American Society of Civil Engineers came up with, a report card, it’s a D+ on our infrastructure. I think we all know. If we travel around the country, we can see it. And I believe there is a federal role — not to do it all, but we have to be there to create an actual transportation system.” 

Noting that he was asked by House leaders in the last Congress to sell MAP-21 to some members who were skeptical of the bill, Shuster revealed that he based part of his argument for supporting the plan on constitutional and historical grounds. 

“The breaking point in the Articles of Confederation was a transportation issue,” the Pennsylvania lawmaker said. “Maryland and Virginia tried to come to terms on a treaty to navigate the Potomac up to Pennsylvania, but they were unable to come to terms. And as negotiations fell apart, they realized that if we can’t promote commerce — if we can’t connect ourselves physically — we are never going to be a United States of America. So when they came back to the drawing board, they came back with the Constitution as we know it today. 

“One of the philosophers our Founding Fathers read and studied was Adam Smith. And Adam Smith, in ‘The Wealth of Nations,’ talked about the invisible hand of the market. He also said, which was not widely reported, that government should provide three things for the people — security, preserve justice, and it should erect and maintain infrastructure to promote commerce. And that’s key to what we do. If we didn’t have the Constitution we had today, we wouldn’t be the power we are today. We are connected by our ideas, freedom and democracy. But the physical connection is the transportation system. And that’s what we need to make sure we have as we move forward in this global economy. If we’re not investing in the transportation system, we’re not going to be competitive, we’re not going to have trade, and we’re not going to create the jobs that we need to create.” 


In his remarks, Shuster also touched on three pieces of legislation his committee is working on this Congress, including: 

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) – “We haven’t done one since 2007,” the Chairman noted, “and one of the challenges is that about half – 46% – of the Members were not around in 2007. So there is an education process to bring Members up to speed. If you’re not from a port city or if you don’t have a river running through your district or a river city, you don’t really understand the importance of the problem or the importance of WRDA. So we are going through that process and are still hoping to pass it in July. We pretty much have the bill together. Like I said, we have been hammering out the details with our colleagues on the other side. But the water system is so important to us in this country. When you look at the most effective and efficient way to transport things, it’s the water system. It’s the river system. It’s the least expensive. And we have got locks and dams in this country that are a 100 years old. I believe the average age is 60 years old and they are only built to last for 50. It’s a serious problem that we face. Up and down rivers, the water levels aren’t high enough so ships have to decrease their loads, which makes it less efficient…so it’s an incredibly important part of the system. 

“It takes our soybean growers $85 to take one ton of soy beans from Davenport, Iowa to Shanghai, China. It costs the Brazilians $141 to move that same ton the same distance. And every year, because we haven’t made the investments in our infrastructure, that number ticks up. The Brazilians have just announced that they are going to invest $26 billion to really create an inland water system. They’ve got the rivers to do it – they just need to dredge them and do the things necessary so that they can drive that cost down. And of course, the Chinese are also there investing, trying to drive the cost down because they want to see competitive markets. At any rate, the WRDA is extremely important because it deals with all of these issues.” 

Passenger Rail – “I think passenger rail is important in this country,” he stated. “The number that really drives me on the importance of it is the population here in the states. It took us about 60 years to go from 200 million to 300 million. We crossed that number in 2005, and they projected it would take us 32 years to go from 300 million to 400 million. We’re already eight years in and we are going to be at 400 million people. And when you look at the corridors in this country – the Northeast especially which is the most densely populated corridor — people are all moving to Florida or Arizona. That corridor is going to continue expanding, so making sure we have a passenger rail system focusing on these corridors. There are places in this country that we have rail that maybe we shouldn’t have rail — at least not at this point. We need to focus the system so that it is going to organically grow, so that 20 or 30 years down the road we do have an actual system that’s maybe not profitable, but can at least stand on its own two feet.” 

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) – “MAP 21 will of course expire in September,” Shuster pointed out. “The big question is certainly we want to do more reforms, but how do we fund it? I think it’s important to not take anything off the table. I think it’s vital that we make sure the Trust Fund is solvent moving forward. We need to be able to have that robust physical platform to have a system that can move our products efficiently, because if we can’t get things from the middle of the country to the world markets effectively and efficiently, they aren’t going to be competitive. So we have to be sure we are looking at ways to get funds into the Trust Fund. And as I said, I don’t think we should take anything off the table at this point as we move forward with tax reform. I think there will be opportunities. In fact, I get the sense – I don’t want to speak for Dave Camp – but I get the sense talking to members of the committee that the one issue when it comes to revenues that brings Republicans and Democrats together are transportation issues. People understand the need to have a Trust Fund.” 

Shuster concluded his remarks by talking briefly about one other critical aspect of the Nation’s transportation system – the aviation industry. 

“It’s so important to us,” the Pennsylvania lawmaker stated. “It contributes about a trillion dollars to our economy. When I look at aviation, it was deregulated. But it’s the most regulated deregulated industry we have in this country. Look at the tax on a ticket – 20%. That’s higher than tobacco and alcohol, so it must be a sin to fly. We need to make sure we aren’t using the airline system as a piggy bank. The administration just came out and said they want to slap another fee on the airline ticket for revenues. That’s wrong. The aviation industry needs to be a viable industry and should be able to stand on its own two feet.” 

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.