Archive for July, 2010

The Flow of Oil and the Flow of Words Continue

Posted on July 13, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

As energy giant BP reported progress toward containing the oil flowing from its damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico, the flow of words on the topic in Washington appears unstoppable. At congressional hearings, press conferences and back room meetings the oil spill is quite literally the talk of the town. Here’s what some people are saying:

Kenneth Feinberg, independent administrator, Gulf Spill Independent Claims Fund: “It would be nice if the oil stopped. That would make my job easier, because right now people are uncertain in the Gulf. What does the future hold? How will I survive? How will I make do? And over time, my goal is to make sure that the people in the gulf believe this claims facility will be fair, just, swift and provide them with the financial compensation they are entitled to.”

David Axelrod, senior advisor to the president on the latest plan to cap the leak: “Well, he’s (Obama has) been fully briefed on a daily and more than daily basis on this. And our scientists have met and — at some length with BP, and their technicians and scientists on this, and we have confidence that this is the right decision, because once this cap is on, we believe it will allow the capacity to collect all the oil that’s leaking, and it’ll make it easier to kill the well when those relief wells are completed in August.”

Bill Clinton, former President: “We are dependent on the technical expertise of these people from BP. They had 11 of their folks killed on that explosion. The people that are working on this, whatever the managers did wrong or didn’t, they’re good people. They’re trying to do the right thing. So I think we ought to just row in the same boat for a while until we plug the leak, keep the stuff away from the shore, minimize the damage of what’s on the shore.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, Democrat of New Jersey and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee: “The problem that we have is that there is no reason to believe that we can control a spill, prevent a spill. … So my point is, rather than doing that, we should be looking at renewable resources. Let’s build windmills. Let’s do more solar or wind power. Let’s not put our money, both private or public, into these deeper water drilling proposals that the technology simply doesn’t exist to control the problem.”

Rep. Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts on the costs of an experimental study to track oil leaking from the well: “I think that BP should pay for it. I think that “BP” should stand for “bills paid.” And this is certainly something that BP should pay for. I think it makes a lot of sense for this experiment to take place, especially the use of fluorescent dye in order to measure accurately how much oil and natural gas is coming out of this pipe. And I think if it does require the federal government to pay for it, they should just put it on BP’s bill. Because ultimately, BP doesn’t want to know the answer to the question, because they have to pay a fine per barrel of oil. And if it’s gross negligence, at $4,300 a barrel, the difference of 10,000 barrels per day for 77 days is $3 billion.”

Rep. Ron Paul, Republican of Texas: “You know, I’ve lived on the beach down here for 18 years. I don’t presently have a house there now, but I did. And every time we went to the beach, we had to scrub our feet because we had tar balls. So, even though, they say this has come from this oil, I will wait and see just exactly where this has come from to see if they’re absolutely right.”

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Democrat of New York and chair of the House Committee on Small Businesses: “Studies have shown that businesses who get cash assistance shortly after they are impacted by a natural disaster or any kind of disaster, are more likely to succeed than those have who go through a prolonged wait for financial assistance. Early payments by BP to small businesses have been limited to one month’s worth of lost profits. Small businesses say these payments are too little to cover operating expenses and payroll.”

Gov. Charlie Crist, Republican of Florida and 2010 U.S. Senate candidate: “The frustrations I have are: Number one, I can’t believe that BP would allow this to happen in the first place. Number two, I’m frustrated with the response. We need to get a quicker response, more skimmers. That’s starting to improve frankly, but we’ve got to stay on it and make sure we get the skimmers and all the equipment — heavy equipment that we need and that’s happening. And then the claims process. You know, I’m not a scientist, I don’t know how to plug the hole out there but we have an obligation to make the people whole.”

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Immigration Reform and the Latino Vote

Posted on July 13, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The road to electoral success this November is hardly a smooth one for President Obama and the Democrats. Republicans enter the campaign season eyeing a variety of issues on which they believe the Democrats are vulnerable, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the softness of the economic recovery and a controversial health care reform law among them.

So why, then, would the president toss another highly emotional issue into the mix by calling for comprehensive immigration reform at a time when states like Arizona have become so fed up with illegal immigration that they are passing their own laws to try and fill the void? In a recent speech at the American University School of International Service in Washington, Obama vowed to push forward with the sweeping reform of America’s immigration laws he promised as a candidate in 2008.

“In sum, the system is broken. And everybody knows it. Unfortunately, reform has been held hostage to political posturing and special-interest wrangling -– and to the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics,” Obama said, in effect framing the obvious question, why tackle an issue that comes with “inherently bad politics?”

Obama even singled out 11 Republican senators, including the GOP’s point man on the issue Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who supported reform in the past, but have since walked away from the issue “under the pressures of partisanship and election-year politics.”

Obama also upped the immigration ante when he authorized Attorney General Eric Holder to file a law suit challenging the legitimacy of the Arizona law, which gives police new powers to seek information from those they suspect of being in the country illegally.

Why?

“I think they actually believe that, in a righteous, lawyerly way, the federal government had to step forward and assert federal authority here,” Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks, told the Arizona Republican.”But I also think it’s a pretty naked play for Latino voters. To me, it was a risky and troubling move.”

According to the immigration reform advocacy group America’s Voice, 78% of Latino voters said the immigration issue is important to them and 71% of respondents trusted Obama to “do the right thing” on immigration issues. So mobilizing Latino voters, who were good to Obama and the Democrats in 2008, is essential to success this fall.

White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs was asked about Obama’s motivation recently. “The president,” he said, “believes we have to have comprehensive immigration reform and I don’t think that just Latinos hold that…viewpoint or that position.” In the next breath, Gibbs give his response a partisan spin: “I think we’d all be better served if the 20 Republicans would sit down with Democrats in the House and the Senate, and we could come up with something on comprehensive immigration reform that the president and members of Congress can see acted upon so that we can solve this problem.”

Whatever the motivation, immigration reform is clearly a worthy goal that has eluded advocates for years. It’s possible that the growing number of Latino voters in the U.S. could help prod both sides toward compromise and consensus. Obama says he is ready.

“I’m ready to move, the majority of Democrats are ready to move, and I believe the majority of Americans are ready to move,” Obama said. “But the fact is that without bipartisan support, as we had just a few years ago, we cannot solve this problem.”

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Transportation Reauthorization Efforts Unfold

Posted on July 13, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The transportation systems that are essential to the functioning of our economy and quality of life are in a state of crisis. They have been allowed to fall into dangerous disrepair and obsolescence due to decades of underinvestment in maintenance and expansion of capacity.

A huge fight in Congress is underway which will redesign our transport system and determine how it is paid for. The outcome of this Congressional fight will determine our economic future and shape our national destiny. Its implications for all our citizens and every business in America are immense.

Technological improvements in cars, trucks, planes, and locomotives have allowed us to travel faster, farther, much more efficiently, and with less environmental impact than ever before. Yet, the highways, rail networks, and airports that these new vehicles must operate on actually provide less capacity, in poorer condition, than twenty years ago.

Congestion on our highway, freight rail, and aviation systems levies billions of dollars in costs on U.S. businesses and consumers each year. Transportation costs are the major reason our manufactured goods can’t compete in global markets despite decades of management and technology-driven innovation. Some of our Interstate bridges are in such poor condition that access ramps are being torn off to reduce weight loads sufficiently to keep them open to traffic.

Many of these issues collide in the pending reauthorization of the pathetically inadequate highway and transit law enacted in 2005. This law is already in its sixth short term extension. Some experts predict that months-long extensions may continue for years. But extending poor policy only increases costs and jeopardizes safety and jobs. Postponing infrastructure rehabilitation, like postponing dental work, only leads to greater pain and greater expense.

In a remarkable series of Congressional hearings, both public and private sector have been unified in their call for an increase in highway user fees to finance urgently needed investment in these transportation systems. But, as yet, there is no political will to increase user fees sufficiently to assure safe operation – let alone the expansion and modernization – of America’s highway and transit systems. Congress and the Administration aren’t listening.

President Obama, after making campaign promises to address our nation’s huge infrastructure needs, opposes any increase in the federal gas tax or other transportation user fees. His Administration endorses “livable communities” and increased investment in non-motorized modes of travel, i.e. bikes and pedestrian facilities. But unless user fees are increased, these livable community initiatives will further reduce federal investment in basic highway and transit needs.

A few brave leaders on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have proposed a $500 billion six-year complete overhaul of the U.S. surface transportation programs. Although there is no consensus on how to finance this legislation, there is remarkable bipartisan support for this proposal.

The future of this House legislation will depend on whether Congress will heed the urgent call of public and private sector interests to increase user fees, and how the resulting revenues are divided among programs and states. Not until the Ways and Means Committee determines the amount of revenue available, can the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee move its legislation to restructure U.S. DOT and federal highway and transit programs.

The Senate claims to be developing its own rewrite of the highway/transit law in a version sure to include strong environmental mandates and an emphasis on congestion relief. While laudable, this approach won’t gain enough votes to pass in the Senate unless both increases in user fees and distributions of resulting revenue among programs and states are considered fair by at least 60 Senators. This is a huge legislative task, which is not likely to foster the sizeable increases in user fees necessary to fix the problem.

There are geographic tensions inherent in this reauthorization. Balancing these competing interests will be a challenge, but there is no excuse for delay. Both public and private sector shareholders need to participate and support dramatic changes in federal transportation policy and investment now. Without this, there will not be the political will to address what is becoming one of the most serious problems facing our nation. Billions of dollars, the future of our economy, the safety of our travel, and our world leadership depend on it.

Be sure your voice is heard and your interests protected as highway, transit, aviation, freight, rail, and waterborne transportation reauthorization efforts unfold.

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