Boehner’s Last Stand: House Leader Wants to Kill Transit Funding

by Greg Hanscom, reposted from Grist

It was apparently not enough to obliterate funding for bike lanes and walking paths and kids trying to get to school. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wants to keep our tax dollars from paying for public transit as well.

Earlier this week, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) unveiled a draft transportation bill that would cut all designated funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, the Safe Routes to School program, and grants that have encouraged “complete streets” projects. Still, it looked like the more egregious provisions would be stripped away as the legislation — titled “The American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act” — ran through the lawmaking process. And at least the bill maintained the country’s longstanding, if weak, commitment to public transportation.

Then, Wednesday night, Boehner and the leaders of the House Ways and Means Committee proposed killing a longstanding rule that sets aside a portion of the gas tax to fund trains and buses and other public transportation systems.

“We were all expecting some weird stuff,” says David Goldberg with the nonprofit Transportation for America, which has raised the alarm over the latest move. “But we weren’t expecting this now.”

In his attempt to reverse a longstanding commitment to transit (the “mass transit account” was created in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan), Boehner may have gone too far. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials — that is, the people who build this country’s roads — has come out against the move, and there are rumors that even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may oppose it.

What could Boehner possibly be thinking?

It’s not unimaginable that he really does see trains and buses as a threat to life, liberty, and the pursuit of getting where we’re going in a great big hurry. But as always in Washington, there’s political calculus involved. Boehner may just be trying to score points by handing Obama a “jobs” bill that the president will not sign. (If this is indeed the game, it’s ironic: Transit projects generate more jobs than roads do.)

Lest you think that all the Republicans in the House are enjoying this particular game of political football, several of them, led by Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), tried to amend the draft bill to restore funding for bike and pedestrian projects and Safe Routes to School. Despite backing from Democrats, they were voted down. We’ll be watching to see of any of them step up now to defend mass transit.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, a more balanced version of the transportation bill has passed committee with unanimous bipartisan support. Apparently not everyone is playing games.

In the House, the antics are bound to continue for another month or more, as Congress has until the end of March to pass a new transportation bill. But Boehner, at least, has made it clear where he stands — and it’s not on some sissy metro line.

Greg Hanscom is the special projects editor at Grist. This piece was originally published at Grist.

16 Responses to Boehner’s Last Stand: House Leader Wants to Kill Transit Funding

  1. cervantes says:

    Well, see, mass transit is soshulism, whereas highways are capitalism. Can’t you see that?

  2. fj says:

    Maybe Boehner’s strategy will rid the Republican party of right-wing-nuts and tea partiers; not a bad medium-to-long-term strategy at all.

    (Oh, if it could only achieve this instantly.)

  3. Jeff H says:


    The more immediate, vital, and actionable issue is not what Boehner wants to do. Instead, it’s what President Obama is not willing to do: speak up loud and clear about climate change, use the bully pulpit, educate the public about the issue (leading and calling on others to also do so), and propelling the topic into its necessary place very high in the list of priorities.

    Although I find some of these posts helpful, the most urgent and actionable issues are not the silly or irresponsible things that the Repubs say they want to do, or the things that they should want to do, but don’t.

    Our present problem is that the President is not saying and doing what he should be saying and doing. (Can anyone remember Robert Brulle’s great e-mail awhile back, that he sent to Joe and that Joe featured in a post? So let’s talk about Obama and what we can do to get him into gear, or else what we can do to get a new leader who will actually lead.)

    The silence here (regarding not merely the fact that Obama is dropping the ball, which IS covered sometimes, but on what to DO about that!) is deafening. The things that might be most productive, and that are apparently most needed, are the things that CAP/CP, most of the movement’s leaders, and many of us here don’t even want mentioned, and certainly don’t want to discuss and consider. “Nothing must be too critical of President Obama, or actually demand action of him, or seem to show any substantial rift between the Democrats and people who actually want climate change addressed, because that might cause Obama to be uneasy or it might jeopardize his reelection.” So let’s not talk about our biggest problems — because doing so might put undue pressure on a leader who isn’t talking about them or addressing them? Great thinking. If we keep it up, we’ll have a much warmer world.

    Here’s a question: What to ACTUALLY DO about President Obama and his gross and negligent lack of discussion about climate change?

    THAT is a concrete and clear question, and an urgent one. Will CP even touch it? Joe, will CP even touch it?

    Just asking.



  4. fj says:

    Great thing about net-zero transportation is that terrific improvements come from simply making city streets safe.

    Applications for 20 MPH Zones Pour in From the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens

  5. fj says:

    Who Still Likes the House Transpo Bill? Big Oil, Big Truck, and Big Box Retail

  6. Terry Watkins says:

    You say “Nothing must be too critical of President Obama, or actually demand action of him, or seem to show any substantial rift between the Democrats and people who actually want climate change addressed, because that might cause Obama to be uneasy or it might jeopardize his reelection.”

    What do the quotation marks indicate? Is this statement attributable to anyone? Who is the speaker of the quoted material? How can you base your argument in any way on what would appear to be you speaking from another persona. Negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care. I personally do not believe that Obama’s not saying what you want him to say in these circumstances isn’t unreasonable. Just my take on it.

  7. Steve says:

    My Fellow Citizens, I come before you tonight to conclusively resolve a phoney and increasingly dishonest debate about a scientific issue of utmost importance, even if some…. even if most… of you have not yet been severely affected by it.

    This is really no different than having former President Bush tell you from the opposite side of the aisle that you must have faith in your highest ranking political figures and trust them when they tell you Saddam Hussein attacked the World Trade Center, that he has weapons of mass destruction, and that Iraq must be attacked by our military tonight. And, because he’s top dog, he was able to inform you conclusively that different-appearing individuals should have less rights to privacy and no right to habeas corpus because, as his advisors tell him, things could get really bad on the terrorism front… Also, if you want to do something personnally to fight terrorism, and Saddam, and bin Ladin, get out to our wonderful malls and shop… buy some stuff from China.

    So, same deal here, though I’m from the opposite party, I am in office, so the bully pulpit is mine to use as I please… you know the drill, follow my advice. Trust your government in all things, regardless of your personal political beliefs.

    And this is not a political issue, by the way, it is a scientific issue. Let’s be clear on that and not allow this little speech to undermine that theme. I am a very well-educated lawyer and successful politician, so heed my advice if you have any doubts about the existence, severity, and remedies for this scientific phenomenom. I really should be doing this rather than the scientific and educational community, and you certainly need not be doing it among yourselves with your much more limited free time than mine.

    First and foremost, I am not going to force this upon you by law… at least not yet… but while I have tried to encourage the conversion to renewable energy by creating federal government incentives, I am told by certain elite blogs of fairly well-informed individuals, that this is wholly inadequate for me to be doing as your President. So… I know you each have your own set of problems, and worries, and priorities… but I really need each and every one of you to buy an electric car for about $35,000 and install solar panels on their rooftops for, on average, $30,000. Pronto. And stop driving so much, get the kids out of travel soccer and travel volleyball leagues, walk to school, walk to work, cut back on red meat, lower your thermostat in the winter — remember Jimmy Carter’s presidential leadership on exactly this point? Wear a frickin’ sweater for the sake of humanity. You do your part, and I’ll do mine… I’ll get myself re-elected.

    This is also a moral issue now, in case you haven’t been up on the severity of what lies ahead in human suffering. I’m not being sarcastic. It is the biggest existential and moral issue ever faced by our species… and it is slowly kicking in. So… just like we have had Republican leaders tell you not to have premarital sex, or same-gender sex, or abortions, or whatever… I’m giving you my view on the moral challenge presented by climate change. When the Republicans get back in office, they can be the ones to dictate a national moral code, but for the moment, I have the pulpit. Listen to me, and I’ll tell you what’s right and what’s wrong.

    So we need… indeed, I your President needs… everyone to find a way to fork out, say, $65,000 for the electric car and the pv panels, okay? The kids can wait on their medical and dental checkups, scale back the school lunches you bag up every morning, and you can wait on their college educations. (And don’t worry if your Republican friends don’t play along… just trust me on this one.) This is a crisis — whether you feel it now or not — trust me, like we trusted our political leaders on Iraq and Vietnam and things like that. Military intelligence reports, scientific advisors… these are not political things.

    It is a new Washington. We are not playing with your heads on this one, at least I am not.

    Now, I understand my political adversaries are going to get up and tell you the exact opposite of what I just told you, probably laughing at anyone who would follow my leadership on this. They have that right. If you have time, read up on the scientific research on this… don’t trust politicians with ties to coal and oil to tell you what is right and what is not. I know it is confusing, but trust the politicians that the President tells you to trust, not the other office-holders. That’s how science works.

    Anywho, just do it. Okay? And vote me back into office so we can really hunker down, maybe cut off trade with China until they clean up their act. I don’t know yet. What I do know is that the scientific experts and the blogs out there — with some very minor exceptions such as Mr. Hansen — are really just spending too much of their time talking among themselves, getting irate, preaching to the choir about how terrible this situation is… and they are right to do so… but I honestly don’t know what they are doing other than over-educating themselves (and only themselves) on the issues, so it really comes down to having a politician tell you the skinny on this.

    Let’s hope I stay in office, because fair is fair, and we wouldn’t want a Republican President teaching you science. Ha-ha. They don’t even believe in science, but by office — by virtue of some provision in the Constitution which my legal advisors have not yet been able to point me to — the President is the leading scientific authority and public awareness spokesperson in the land. And the one personally responsible for educating everyone on the issues, as he or she sees fit.

    Wow. Thanks for listening, my fellow citizens. Enjoy the mild weather… beautiful weather… but it’s a facade, believe me.

    You know, this is going over so well, we don’t even need the tax credit for renewable energy incentives, so I don’t know why I wasted my limited political capital and time on that legislation. We just need me to tell you what you need to do, apparently because you are not inclined to do it on your own.

    Such is life.

    Thank you and God bless America.

    {Please stay on to hear the Speaker of the House’s rebuttal on the topic, now that we have it plainly out there for thorough political discussion… and now that it’s prime time news, let’s hope the mainstream media gets it sorted out right because this could actually backfire….}

  8. Let the poor walk. It makes it easier for them to die in the streets from lack of health insurance.

  9. Roger S says:


    Bravo. I admire your noteworthy escape from the broad extent of groupthink one sees around us.

    Your points make perfect sense, and I agree with you 100 percent. We citizens need to demand action. So, why don’t we? It’s worth thinking about, given that the path we’re on leads to hell and high water.

    One of my hobbies is to study human nature. In human nature, as in nature, truth is often stranger than fiction. Most humans are not equipped, by nature or nurture, to deal with problems that have the relatively unique characteristics that climate change has. You’re familiar with all of these, but here are some key ones: 1) Not in our faces, 2) No human face, 3) Coming from ourselves, 4) Moving slowly, and 5) Beneficial to powerful members of the group.

    Another thing you’re witnessing is the peer pressure for us to stay within accepted norms. For example, most of the writers and readers on Climate Progress are here to write, to read, and to occasionally make a comment. Most of them, not even the current leaders of the climate movement, are comfortable with the politically active roles that have landed in their laps. This is less true of those on the other side.

    Then there’s President Obama, and all of the other politicians in Washington. It used to be viewed as a sacred honor to serve in high office, serving our country and our fellow citizens. At the same time, human nature is such that there is a tendency towards erosion of those standards with time: One bad apple experiments with lowering the high standards of office, finds that his path is easier and more rewarding in certain basic ways, then others observe, and gradually begin to follow. As long as well-fed constituents don’t seem to notice or care, and as long as the media (going through the same process of erosion) don’t highlight the shortcomings of our elected officials, the whole system weakens.

    So, what do we do? That’s the $64 trillion dollar (and seven billion person) question. One answer would be to band together and cooperate—but, again, human nature gets in the way. Most people are pursuing their own individual agendas, as viewed from the perspective of life as they’ve always known it here on Earth. But, as you also know, the forces of physics, chemistry, biology, and other sciences that make up Mother Nature, are orders of magnitude more powerful than human nature.

    Can we concerned citizens band together and cooperate? Only time will tell–I certainly hope so.

  10. Roger says:

    Joe fed a troll, in Steve’s sick comment. It misses the point. Jeff is asking the president to abide by what nearly all of the experts say. Remember the Challenger launch explosion 26 years ago? We ignored the experts’ warnings, lost seven great Americans. Now we have seven billion riding on what Obama does. A high stakes ‘game.’

  11. Tim says:

    What could Boehner possibly be thinking?

    Republicans think?

  12. Joan Savage says:

    And “Safe Routes to School” would be what?

    I have to wonder if Boehner dismisses children capable of going to school on their own, or perhaps he distances himself from Michelle Obama’s efforts to encourage children to exercise.

  13. Luther E. Franklin says:

    Face it….the “MD” who pronounced that poor brain dead Terri Schiavo was still alive, base on viewing a video recording of her face is simply a dishonorable person. He did that purely to please his GOP religious extremists, and his Transportation cuts are simply an attempt to get him back in good graces with his right wing Tea Party types who want to cut all social services, except the military, and pay NO taxes!
    The most appropriate descriptive term for politicians like Boehner is, “amoral”.

  14. Steve says:

    Roger, not a troll and not sick. It’s a rhetorical device called addressing upfront the hidden complications and inherent contradictions of the matter. Is the President the leading authority on matters of science, provided he is a Democrat? And, more fundamentally, what do you and Jeff want the President to specifically say — and ask people specifically to DO, because “saying” does not reduce C02, right? — and how do you anticipate Main Street America will receive it, act or not act on it? And what will come of the inevitable well-financed conservative Super PAC rebuttal that it will unlease, now that the White House has made it fair game for television discussion? Net gain or net loss?

  15. Steve says:

    Steve says:

    …meant to say “unleash” obviously, not unlease.

    Anyway, the problem is that we want the highest officeholder to speak authoritatively on matters of science and morals (neither of which is bestowed upon him or her by prior training or by the office) when the President is “our guy or woman,” but not when the other party is in power.

    We, as people, have to take advantage of the renewable energy federal tax credit that IS available, and whatever else is going on at the state and local level… building momentum in showing that so-called green legislation works, in that the people want it, take advantage of it, and create jobs as a result.

    I personally don’t think a State of the Climate address is, right now, the wisest political tactic, but I fully understand people here may feel strongly to the contrary. But I definitely don’t think running off to vote for the Green Party to teach Obama a lesson is even close to a wise tactic… it is mathematically a vote for the GOP, which is a disaster right now.

    I do agree, though, that when a newsworthy extreme weather event or financial hardship hits, the President should start saying words to this effect, “My scientific advisors agree with the overwhelming majority of experts in this field and with leading scientific organizations… along with many other national leaders, both liberal and conservative… that these tragic events are being caused and exacerbated by our dependence on fossil fuels and by our lifestyles, and things are more likely to get worse rather than better. So, we all need to educate ourselves on the issues and take action.”

    When the sh– really hits the fan, then the comprehensive climate reality fireside chat may be better received (because the conservative rebuttal at that time and place will look lame, ill-informed, and fully lacking in compassion). Because when people start hurting and becoming seriously concerned about tomorrow and next summer — not about 2050 — they will at least listen, and maybe begin to decisively act.

    Meanwhile, we all need to do what we can do to educate middle-roaders, and mobilizing real carbon reduction change.

    Giants over Patriots…

  16. J4zonian says:


    We are a fabulously wealthy society who can easily afford to switch to renewables. Individuals who can’t afford to don’t need to; we can do it together. I’m suspicious of the motives and honesty of anyone who seems not to realize that obvious fact.

    At this point what is the difference (in real action, not in rhetoric) between the 2 major parties? Continuing to vacillate between them as we have been will guarantee utter destruction, voting Republicans in when betrayed by Democrats revealing themselves and Democrats in when Republicans reveal themselves. Only tossing both out will save us. We can start doing that now or we can wait another 4, 6, 8, or 30 years to do it, all the while rushing toward calamity. I vote now.