• DATVF.ATLPHL
    1.814
    0.044
    2.5%
  • DATVF.CHIATL
    2.034
    0.018
    0.9%
  • DATVF.DALLAX
    0.921
    0.071
    8.4%
  • DATVF.LAXDAL
    1.502
    -0.092
    -5.8%
  • DATVF.SEALAX
    0.962
    -0.053
    -5.2%
  • DATVF.PHLCHI
    1.091
    -0.038
    -3.4%
  • DATVF.LAXSEA
    2.146
    -0.004
    -0.2%
  • DATVF.VEU
    1.647
    0.009
    0.5%
  • DATVF.VNU
    1.471
    -0.010
    -0.7%
  • DATVF.VSU
    1.211
    -0.011
    -0.9%
  • DATVF.VWU
    1.554
    -0.028
    -1.8%
  • ITVI.USA
    9,682.710
    -15.240
    -0.2%
  • OTRI.USA
    7.700
    -0.010
    -0.1%
  • OTVI.USA
    9,671.310
    -19.300
    -0.2%
  • TLT.USA
    2.730
    0.010
    0.4%
  • WAIT.USA
    156.000
    -2.000
    -1.3%
  • DATVF.ATLPHL
    1.814
    0.044
    2.5%
  • DATVF.CHIATL
    2.034
    0.018
    0.9%
  • DATVF.DALLAX
    0.921
    0.071
    8.4%
  • DATVF.LAXDAL
    1.502
    -0.092
    -5.8%
  • DATVF.SEALAX
    0.962
    -0.053
    -5.2%
  • DATVF.PHLCHI
    1.091
    -0.038
    -3.4%
  • DATVF.LAXSEA
    2.146
    -0.004
    -0.2%
  • DATVF.VEU
    1.647
    0.009
    0.5%
  • DATVF.VNU
    1.471
    -0.010
    -0.7%
  • DATVF.VSU
    1.211
    -0.011
    -0.9%
  • DATVF.VWU
    1.554
    -0.028
    -1.8%
  • ITVI.USA
    9,682.710
    -15.240
    -0.2%
  • OTRI.USA
    7.700
    -0.010
    -0.1%
  • OTVI.USA
    9,671.310
    -19.300
    -0.2%
  • TLT.USA
    2.730
    0.010
    0.4%
  • WAIT.USA
    156.000
    -2.000
    -1.3%
American Shipper

Compliance 360: Senate’s pro-transportation odd couple

   The polarized state of American politics these days makes it difficult at the federal level to address the nation’s crying needs. Things are so bad that even well-meaning politicians dare not look like they’re compromising or negotiating in good faith with members of the other party for fear of being accused of selling out core principles. Not long ago, incumbents were virtually guaranteed re-election. Now, an incumbent is more likely to be ousted by a more extreme member of his or her own party in a primary than by someone from the opposite party in the general election.

   All the rancor and dysfunction in Washington makes us forget that Congress used to pass much more legislation. One of the tools that made things function better were earmarks, money committee leaders divided up for members to direct to pet projects in their districts or states. Earmarks were a form of currency that made it easier to close the gap in ideological differences and get deals done.

   But earmarks got a bad rap as wasteful spending with the so-called Bridge-to-Nowhere and other misguided projects. In 2011, House and Senate leaders placed a moratorium on earmarks in spending bills.

   Surprisingly, many earmarks never get spent, probably because jurisdictions change their plans about whether to proceed with a project, or finish it on their own before the earmark becomes available. Included in the recent FAST Act—the first multiyear surface transportation reauthorization in 17 years—is a provision to identify unused earmarks and make the money available to states to upgrade highway and bridge infrastructure.

   The FAST Act is a rare example of what Congress can still accomplish. It provides $305 billion of funding over five years, which gives states the confidence to go ahead with long-term projects knowing that they will be reimbursed for the federal share, something that was increasingly difficult with all the short-term extensions in recent years. And for the first time it includes money—almost $11 billion—exclusively for freight-related infrastructure.

   To be clear, FAST isn’t a perfect law. It didn’t create a sustainable source of new revenue to supplement the Highway Trust Fund, which can’t maintain a positive balance because gas tax revenues aren’t keeping up with road needs. Lawmakers are scared to raise the gas tax, which is actually a user fee, and can’t agree on any other way to bring in money.

   The death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia immediately led to political posturing by Democrats and Republicans in the high-stakes battle for his replacement. President Obama said he plans to soon nominate a qualified candidate and Senate Republicans responded that they wouldn’t even consider the nomination until the next president is in office.

   It’s another example of Washington gridlock.

   Yet for Scalia’s reputation as a rigid conservative voice and constitutional originalist, his best friend on the court was liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. They were said to be extremely close, even though they disagreed on many cases. Scalia and Ginsberg even went on vacations together with their families. One photo shows them riding an elephant together in India.

   A similar relationship exists between Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and ranking Democrat Barbara Boxer of California. The two of them worked closely to push a Senate transportation bill that ultimately became the FAST Act.

   Inhofe and Boxer have become great friends, despite their ideological differences. He is considered by many to be one of the three most conservative senators and she is one of the most liberal. Boxer, for example, is a staunch proponent of environmental regulation. Inhofe openly rejects global warming—or at least any role played by humans.

   “She’s a proud liberal. Not a hypocrite like a lot of my Democrat friends who vote liberal but press release conservative,” Inhofe joked at the American Association of State Transportation Officials’ recent government affairs conference in Washington.

   When both were in the green room waiting to appear on the “Larry King Show” several years ago, Inhofe fondly recounted he messed up Boxer’s hair that stylists had spent time fixing.

   “Her hair was just ravishing. Every hair was in place. I mean, she had enough hairspray it would have painted an M1 tank,” he joked.

   “We have a real love for each other. But you’d never know it” because they fight so much about the proper level of government regulation, Inhofe said. “We disagree on almost every issue except infrastructure.”

   Let’s hope more politicians can find areas of common ground in the coming year to get stuff done. For starters, there’s the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization and the reauthorization of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which is critical for ports and inland waterways.

   Luckily, Congress recently finalized—after about seven years—a Customs authorization bill that will help to modernize the agency, facilitate trade and boost enforcement of unfair trade practices and counterfeit imports. It’s the first time Congress has officially spelled out Customs and Border Protection’s terms and operating conditions, as well as funding targets, since the agency became part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.

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