Come January when the 113th Congress is sworn in, it will be "Back to the Future" for the House committee that oversees transportation and infrastructure in the United States.
At that time, Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster will become chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee a dozen years after his father, the legendary Elmer Greinert "Bud" Shuster, resigned from the same post. Shuster will succeed Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla), who is required to step down because House rules permit members to serve as chairman for only one session of Congress.
Shuster, 51, has served in Congress since 2001, when he won a special election to succeed his father. Shuster has served on the committee since entering Congress and currently chairs its Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.
Shuster was one of the House conferees that negotiated a 27-month, $109 billion transportation-funding measure that was signed into law in July. The bill was the first multi-year re-authorization of transportation and infrastructure programs in seven years.
Those close to the process said Shuster was instrumental in educating freshmen lawmakers on the nuances of transportation and infrastructure issues and the procedures required to successfully steer the bill through House-Senate negotiations so it could reach President Obama's desk for signature.
"He played the role of loyal deputy to Mica and clearly was a valuable team member," said a high-level Washington source. "I believe his views and Mica's on major transportation issues are similar."
Janet F. Kavinoky, executive director of transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hailed Shuster's selection, calling him "very knowledgeable about transportation" and an advocate of seeking bipartisan support for legislative initiatives.
FUTURE UNDER SHUSTER
Kavinoky added that in the next transport re-authorization cycle, Shuster will likely be interested in pushing for a bill with more funding and a longer duration attached to it. "He understands the value of increasing the level of investment in transportation and infrastructure and the value of a long-term bill" to ensure that highway projects that often take several years to complete have the funding stream to do so.
One issue that will be closely watched will be Shuster's view on the status of federal motor fuels taxes, which is the near-exclusive source of funding for transport programs and which have not been raised in nearly 20 years. Shuster told reporters last week that everything is on the table with regards to revenue sources, including gas taxes. The committee has no jurisdiction over taxes, which is the exclusive domain of the House Ways and Means Committee. Still, given his elevated role in shaping transportation policy on Capitol Hill, Shuster's comments and position are expected to be relevant.
Both the White House and Rep. Mica have opposed raising gas taxes, saying it would be a regressive levy that would retard the nation's fragile recovery. The current transportation funding law keeps taxes at current levels until 2015. The federal fuel tax on diesel use is 24.4 cents a gallon and 18.4 cents for gasoline.
C. Kenneth Orski, editor and publisher of "Innovation Briefs," a Potomac, Md.-based newsletter covering transport and infrastructure issues, said he doesn't see much change in policy, noting that broad policy directives in the House are generally set by the leadership and not by committee chairmen. Shuster is believed to have good relations with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va).
Orski called Shuster's style "more diplomatic" than Mica's. Those speaking on condition of anonymity agree, saying that while Mica and his predecessor, Minnesota Democrat James L. Oberstar, spoke in abstract terms about bipartisanship but when push came to shove both would try to force the minority party in the chamber to bow to the will of the majority.
One source added that Shuster will draw upon a wide range of stakeholder views and be more tolerant of dissenting views than Mica was. "If you pissed off Mica, you were out," said one source.
Shuster's seat, representing Pennsylvania's staunchly Republican ninth district, which is west of Harrisburg, has been a legislative family affair for 40 years. Bud Shuster served the district from 1973 to 2001, the last six of those years as the committee's chairman. The elder Shuster was known for his love of the "earmark," a provision that directs approved funds to be spent on specific projects in a Congressman's home district, often in exchange for the lawmaker's support of a certain bill.
Though Shuster did not invent the earmark, their numbers exploded during his tenure as he skillfully used the process to build support for bills coming out of his committee.