House Speaker John Boehner normally has a self-assured air as he goes about his work. He speaks loudly and often to promote his own and his party's agenda, clearly expecting his views to carry the day. Some of the time he seems to get away with the act. But not always. Last week, the veteran Ohio legislator was forced to delay action on his $260-billion transportation bill. So many of his erstwhile GOP allies found certain provisions of the bill so unpalatable that Boehner had to pull it off the table.
There is ample reason for such outrage. Boehner's bill is flawed in so many ways that no Democrat was expected to vote for it, and a sizable number of Republicans publicly rejected it. Ray LaHood, a Republican who serves as transportation secretary, described it as the "worst transportation bill" he'd seen in more than three decades of public life. LaHood didn't go far enough. Boehner's bill is likely the worst transportation bill ever. It's hard to disagree with the latter assessment.
If approved, the bill would terminate a 30-year agreement that guarantees mass transit programs a reasonable share of the fuel taxes and user fees paid into the highway trust fund. It would also expand oil and drilling along the East, West and Florida Gulf Coasts and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The legislation also would effectively end useful environmental reviews of proposed road and highway projects. The bill should be rejected.
The mass transit proposal is especially egregious. In many areas, mass transit is an efficient, effective and environmentally sound way to move people from one point to another in a manner that removes vehicles and the pollutants they spew from the roads. That's good for the air, for the economy and for people everywhere, especially in large urban areas. Ronald Reagan, a Republican president with sound conservative credentials, certainly thought so. He was responsible for the agreement to share fuel taxes with mass transit programs that Boehner seeks to end.
The desire to open more areas to drilling makes no sense. Even if vast new fields are discovered, benefits are unlikely to accrue. Boehner says revenues from increased drilling will ease budget woes and that additional supplies will lower prices. Not so. Drilling might increase revenues a bit but certainly not enough to impact the budget. Any increase in oil and gas supplies would not be available to consumers for years. Moreover, the ecological and environmental damage could be extensive, and more rapid consumption would needlessly reduce supplies for our future generations.
Boehner's desire to end environmental reviews of road projects would halt a proven program that protects the public. Doing so most likely would allow a return to the time when there were few controls on how, when and where roads were built. Neither the nation nor the environment needs that.
It doesn't need Boehner's proposed legislation either. Boehner implies that his bill has been shelved for technical reasons, That's poppycock. It's off the table because it is such an abomination that he failed to elicit support for passage.
Word is that Boehner will bring the bill back for a vote after a House recess. If he succeeds, the legislation should be defeated -- and replaced by a bill that properly and fairly addresses U.S. transportation needs.