Lobby Day Recap – Friday July 17th

This past Friday, we executed a joint transportation/climate visit to Congress, and it was one of our most active lobbying days to date. The transportation team had three scheduled meetings and two impromptu ones, and Chris gathered an array of Virginia climate activists to meet staffers for Senators Webb and Warner. I will summarize our experiences with our first transportation action, and leave a discussion the state of play with climate organizing to Chris.

As a reminder, our general goal at this point is to get some fundamental reforms in surface transportation policy in place this year. As I’ve mentioned before, the Senate has different priorities. We are working with the House to strengthen their position and attempt to get a bill done this year or, at minimum, work some key reforms into an extension of the current Policy to Nowhere. The Administration, to their credit, has included some good initial measures as part of their extension proposal, including badly needed data collection and establishment of their livable communities initiative.

The Friday meetings were intended more to get a sense of the lay of the land more than anything else. And that we certainly did. Simply put, the situation is a mess. There’s a good old fashioned standoff between the House and Senate, and neither side seems ready to budge just yet. A key x-factor is the House leadership, which seems wary of enacting another highly visible tax increase on top of all the other major legislation moving this year.

On the House side, the transportation staffer for Rep. Capuano (Boston) seemed pretty much broken from years of getting rolled over by the Senate and the Bush Admin, and was all but resigned to the fact that the Senate would get their way in full. Capuano is in favor of reform, but doesn’t want to get in the middle of a turf battle between the Speaker and the Chair.

The story was mostly the same with our local Congresswoman Donna Edwards, although her always-friendly Legislative Director seemed surprised she hadn’t signed on to two keys bills on our radar screen and couldn’t give me a reason why she shouldn’t, so hopefully she will do so now. We appreciate Donna’s leadership on this issue and consistent support of a sustainable transportation agenda for the metro D.C. area, and will be sure to thank her on this page when her name does indeed appear on the Complete Streets and National Transportation Objectives bills.

We also paid an impromptu visit to our other nearby MD reps Van Hollen and Hoyer, and were able to get some valuable info from both offices. Both of these guys are important, Van Hollen being a prominent voice on Ways & Means and Hoyer of course being the House Majority Leader. Van Hollen’s staffer who handles transportation finance issues happened to be right in the front office and talked to us for a few minutes. She said her boss was in support of reform but couldn’t take a formal stance on anything because of his leadership position. She did offer us some friendly strategic advice, most notably on revenue raisers. Her suggestion for us was to develop a set of transportation pay-fors with a few different options to choose from, and shop them around aggressively. The development of a concrete proposal in the House would substantially strengthen their bargaining position. I will be focusing more on that moving forward.

In Hoyer’s office we were able to catch up with a friend of mine, who referred us on to the fellow who handles our issues for the Majority Leader’s office. We will be reaching out to him shortly.

Finally, we met with Senate Commerce Committee staff. After some back and forth, I got their point person John Drake to give us a straight answer, and he told us that they weren’t even trying to move the key transportation objectives bill they had written this year. The intent is as a benchmark for 18 months from now when the reauthorization moves forward. Not a good sign.

Looking ahead, we plan to land a few more meetings before the month is out, and hope to develop a package of revenue proposals that we can aggressively shop as Congress struggles with the financing question. If they can settle on a concrete way to pay for additional surface transportation needs and keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent, a sweeping reauthorization will be much more likely to advance this year.

For more information on the Carrots and Sticks transportation agenda, please visit our new overview page.

-Jeremy

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