WASHINGTON — The top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is opposing a recent Obama administration plan to invest in transportation, warning it is a year late and unacceptable because it would be paid for by ending tax loopholes for oil companies.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. — who could assume leadership of the committee if, as recent polls suggest, Republicans win a majority in the House next month — made the remarks in a recent interview. As chairman, he would be able to guide transportation bills, including any measures championed by the White House.
But opposition from the committee would be nothing new for the Obama administration. The current chairman, James Oberstar, D-Minn., harshly criticized the administration last year for asking Congress to delay the next multi-year surface transportation bill until after the election. The bill has been pending in the committee since then.
Mica said that when President Obama last month announced he would push for a $50 billion up-front transportation investment leading into a full six-year bill, “I said, 'What planet have these people been on the past year?’ ”
The president renewed his push Monday for the $50 billion plan, coinciding with a report written by the Treasury Department and Council of Economic Advisers on the economic risks of not spending more on U.S. infrastructure. The release prompted Mica to issue a terse statement calling the report “last-minute” and a “pitiful and tardy” followup to the administration’s stalling of the transportation bill last year.
“Their proposal is so much smoke and mirrors .… Here at the last minute, trying to justify why there aren’t jobs and having killed the major job-creation legislation,” Mica said Tuesday, referring to the six-year bill that was introduced by Oberstar last June. “Oberstar and I came up with twice as much money for infrastructure.”
The Democrats who are fighting to keep or gain congressional seats “wouldn’t be in all the trouble they’re in if they’d passed a fully funded six-year bill, so now they’ve gathered people together for some kind of pre-election pep rally to say they support [it].”
Mica, who is known for colloquialisms and colorful analogies, said the administration is “waving a report that says infrastructure spending will create jobs. Well, duh, where have they been?”
Mica argued that a $50 billion up-front investment would be redundant because there are stimulus dollars for infrastructure projects that remain unspent, though they have been obligated. Additionally, the administration’s idea for funding the up-front investment by closing tax loopholes on oil would be unacceptable, he said.
When a multi-year reauthorization proposal is presented by the White House — a framework that officials say will be released soon — it will not have Mica’s blessing if it includes a tax increase or the creation of a new agency to oversee public-private partnerships and tolling.