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The Transport Index 2009

The Transport Index 2009

» While a majority of Senate members voice their support for transportation spending, a significant minority may stand in the way of big advances.

In response to the President’s State of the Union Address in February, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) criticized the stimulus, arguing that it was “larded with wasteful spending.” He pointed to the $8 billion devoted to high-speed rail as a specifically unnecessary expenditure. It became clear at that moment that the road to an improved American transportation system would not be a straight shot. How will the members of the Senate react when they are forced to consider expanding the federal commitment to transportation? That’s what this Transport Index is intended to anticipate.

The health reform debate of the last several weeks has made evident the fact that Republicans in Congress will be able to rile up an intimidating opposition to legislation proposed by the Democratic Party. Though Democrats have 60 seats in the Senate — a number that is large enough to vote down a potentially fatal filibuster — the sudden arrival of thousands of right-wing demonstrators on scene at town hall meetings has slowed down and problematized the passage of any legislation. The tacit support of Republican Congressmen for the lies being spewed by these protesters indicates that if the GOP wants to prevent something from passing, it will do whatever is necessary. “Moderate” Democrats, especially in the Senate, have made clear that they’re willing to compromise their goals in the face of this reactionary force.

Would Republicans stage a similar temper tantrum if the Congress embarked on a massive transportation program? It’s unclear, but Mr. Jindal’s reaction in February indicates that it’s a distinct possibility. Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) may be excited about appropriating $50 billion to high-speed rail and significantly expanding transit subsidies in the coming transportation legislation, but he will face a roadblock in the form of a skeptical Senate if the GOP decides to mount opposition. It’s necessary, then, to see where we stand.

Thus, the Transport Index 2009.

In evaluating the votes of all 100 current senators on ten significant bills, motions, and amendments considered by the full body over the past two years, the makeup of the Senate becomes quite clear, as illustrated in the chart and map at the top of the article. Below are the specific rankings of each senator. The votes, each of which considers transportation funding, are described at the bottom of this article; they considered matters as varied as the stimulus, high-speed rail, transit, and maintenance of infrastructure.

What is obvious is a significant partisan split, with Democrats generally voting for expansions in transportation appropriations and Republicans likely to vote against. 56 senators, including 54 Democrats and the two Independents who caucus with them, Bernie Sanders (VT) and Joseph Lieberman (CT), voted in the “good” way every time they went up to vote. The 4 other Democrats voted correctly 9/10 times (including newly Democratic Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA). There have been no motions, amendments, or bills considered over the past two years that have significantly disturbed the integrity of the Democratic caucus.

However, other than Susan Collins (ME), Olympia Snowe (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), Republicans were just as likely to vote against transportation funding as they were to vote for it. The GOP caucus, in other words, is primarily an anti-investment group.

The worst offenders are Jon Kyl (AZ), John McCain (AZ), Mike Johanns (NE), Tom Coburn (OK), Jim DeMint (SC), John Barrasso (WY), and Mike Enzi (WY), who voted the “good” way on none of the legislation, motions, or amendments considered here. They are the declared enemies of improved federal funding for transportation.

Where do we stand, then? What are the chances of moving ahead with progressive legislation that would expand the federal commitment to alternative transportation? The Senate has 56 steadfast supporters of potential bills and roughly 6 moderates who would be likely to consider coming in line. It wouldn’t be too difficult to assemble a 60-vote majority, in other words — unless the moderates get scared off by intense right-wing opposition.

All this is speculative, of course: these rankings by no means pre-determine actual votes in the future. More importantly, perhaps, the Senate needs to actually get around to considering any more investments, something it has been reluctant to do over the past few months. The stimulus’ massive expansion of federal government outlays seems, for the moment, to have made new commitments to transportation less than a priority.

The Transport Index 2009 – 0-1 Score Based on Percentage of “Good” Votes
Progressives (10/10 votes) // 54 Democrats, 2 Independents
Begich (AK)** 1 Lincoln (AR) 1 Pryor (AR) 1 Boxer (CA) 1 Feinstein (CA) 1 Bennett (CO)** 1
Udall (CO)** 1 Dodd (CT) 1 Lieberman (CT) 1 Carper (DE) 1 Kaufman (DE)** 1 Nelson (FL) 1
Akaka (HI) 1 Inouye (HI) 1 Burris (IL)** 1 Durbin (IL) 1 Harkin (IA) 1 Cardin (MD) 1
Mikulski (MD) 1 Kerry (MA) 1 Kennedy (MA)* 1 Levin (MI) 1 Stabenow (MI) 1 Franken (MN)** 1
Klobuchar (MN) 1 McCaskill (MO) 1 Baucus (MT) 1 Tester (MT) 1 Reid (NV) 1 Shaheen (NH)** 1
Lautenberg (NJ) 1 Menendez (NJ) 1 Bingamen (NM) 1 Udall (NM)** 1 Gillibrand (NY)** 1 Schumer (NY) 1
Hagan (NC)** 1 Conrad (ND) 1 Dorgan (ND) 1 Brown (OH) 1 Merkley (OR)** 1 Wyden (OR) 1
Casey (PA) 1 Reed (RI) 1 Whitehouse (RI) 1 Johnson (SD) 1 Leahy (VT) 1 Sanders (VT) 1
Warner (VA)** 1 Webb (VA) 1 Cantwell (WA) 1 Murray (WA) 1 Rockefeller (WV) 1 Byrd (WV) 1
Feingold (WI) 1 Kohl (WI) 1
Constructors (9/10 votes) // 4 Democrats
Bayh (IN) 0.9 Landrieu (LA) 0.9 Nelson (NE) 0.9 Specter (PA) 0.9
Moderates (8/10 votes) // 2 Republicans
Snowe (ME) 0.8 Collins (ME) 0.8
Anti-Investors (5-6/10 votes) // 5 Republicans
Murkowski (AK) 0.6 Hutchison (TX) 0.56 Lugar (IN) 0.5 Grassley (IA) 0.5 Roberts (KS) 0.5
Obstructors (1-4/10 votes) // 26 Republicans
Shelby (AL) 0.4 Crapo (ID) 0.4 Cochran (MS) 0.4 Wicker (MS) 0.4 Voinovich (OH) 0.4 Alexander (TN) 0.4
Martinez (FL) 0.3 Isakson (GA) 0.3 Brownback (KS) 0.3 McConnell (KY) 0.3 Bond (MO) 0.3 Corker (TN) 0.3
Cornyn (TX) 0.3 Bennett (UT) 0.3 Hatch (UT) 0.3 Chambliss (GA) 0.2 Vitter (LA) 0.2 Graham (SC) 0.2
Risch (ID)** 0.17 Gregg (NH) 0.14 Sessions (AL) 0.11 Inhofe (OK) 0.11 Bunning (KY) 0.1 Ensign (NV) 0.1
Burr (NC) 0.1 Thune (SD) 0.1
Regressives (0/10 votes) // 7 Republicans
Kyl (AZ) 0 McCain (AZ) 0 Johanns (NE) 0 Coburn (OK) 0 DeMint (SC) 0 Barrasso (WY) 0
Enzi (WY) 0

* Freshman senator — didn’t make 4/10 votes. Al Franken didn’t make 8/10 votes because he didn’t enter the Senate until July 7, 2009.
** Ted Kennedy didn’t make 7/10 votes because of his health problems. One could argue that his steadfast refusal to resign despite his cancer made the passage of a number of important pieces of legislation impossible, including Patty Murray’s amendment which would have increased the amount of money allocated to transit in the stimulus, and which didn’t make it out of the motion stage. (Admittedly, the amendment, even with Kennedy’s vote, still would have only received 59 out of 60 needed votes.)

The 10 votes in the Senate considered for this index:

18 replies on “The Transport Index 2009”

One could make an argument that McCain ranks low on your scale not because he is anti-transportation, but because he is vehemently anti-earmark. And the transportation bills are some of the worst offenders when it comes to the number of earmarks involved.

@Froggie: A valid argument, but voting against every bill in order to lose earmarks without building a coalition of like minded people only serves to undermine good bills as further votes are traded for another earmark to get over the loss of McCain’s 100% no votes to transportation.

If McCain is serious about eliminating earmarks, he should build a coalition to make that change. Otherwise, he achieves nothing. His proposal to do this would have been effective as President in the form of veto-ing bills – which would quickly bring earmarks down. But as one of 100 senators, he cannot achieve this goal.

As I live in Wisconsin, I looked for the voting record of one of my U.S. Senators Herb Kohl. I must miss something because after pouring through the chart more than 3 times, I cannot see what his voting record is. Your map depicts Wisconsin as progressive and Kohl is a moderate Democrat. Can you tell me where to look?


I am surprised by Arizona, mostly because they have just completed and opened a very successful 20-mile light rail line connecting Phoenix with Messa and one of their other suburbs. So it seems counter-intuitive the senators would vote so heavily against transit. I guess the state leadership is more progressive than the representatives. I think McCain could be persuaded to vote against the party for transit if there were no earmarks and the spending were reasonable… but that may be giving him more credit than he is due… hard to say…

How is Crapo an obstructer? He’s the biggest advocate for restoration of Amtrak’s Pioneer Long Distance train and has stated that he will get the funds secured for it. He even mandated and provided money for the study. I don’t see him as being obstructionist.

This will be much easier to get thu than the massive health care bill.. It really should have been a first priority for this admininstration as its really is a job creator in this recession and has a much broader cross party support than this Health care overhaul..which they are hanging so much of there reputation on

i hope youre right glenn, i think you are but weve seen some real ugliness with the health care reform.

the anti-any government spending (always with a big exception for the military) crowd is what concerns me. and mccains fetish for making an enormous deal out of the most minor earmark.

The thing that pisses me off the most about McCain is the fact that he isn’t necessarily against transportation spending…he’s against spending money on smart transportation, transportation that could be a benefit for our future. In an Amtrak hearing a couple of years ago, Senator McCain was the biggest voice against any expansion of funding, and continued to voice his opinion against Amtrak subsidies until David L. Gunn, the president of Amtrak at the time, asked him if he would demand the same thing, the elimination of subsidies, upon commuter airlines, which Arizona apparently pretty dependent on. I think whenever McCain seeks to oppose any expansion of transportation spending, we should tell him that we’d be getting the funding from cutting subsidies to commuter flights and see how fast he shuts up.

I hate hypocrites like McCain. The senators from Arizona have NO room to talk.

so bobby “piyush” jindal, after railing against and specifically calling out the $8 billion HSR as “wasteful government spending” earlier this year in his famed TV debut (along with volcano monitoring), has just requested $300 million for HSR in Louisana. HYPOCRITE

keith olbermann just called him out tonight on this

Keep in mind that some transportation bills does NOT require 60 votes.

First, the 60 vote “majority” comes from the use of filibusters that Republicans do all the time. Cloture to end a filibuster requires 60 votes. Bills in the Senate require 51 votes to pass or 50 + the Vice President’s vote, but to end a filibuster before the final vote, 60 votes are required. If there is a filibuster, cloture is required.

Secondly, some transportation bills are budget bills and that only requires 51 votes to pass. Budget bills are the same thing as appropriations bills and if you look here,

the Transportation/HUD appropriations bill have not passed the Senate yet. When it is discussed, it only requires 51 votes to pass.

All other transpo bills not an appropriations bill will need 60 votes assuming Republicans filibuster.

sounds good senate agenda

but either way i’m sure transportation will get highly politicized into a red=cars blue=transit, bikes, peds. and cries that “the guvmint is gunna take away ma car and force me on a socialist bike.” theyll tie this into the new climate change laws and paint out anything other than highway travel as part of the global warming “agenda”. randall o toole and wendell cox will be paraded around by some politicans. all i’m saying is this politicized debate will be harmful to the dialogue and harden simplistic overly exaggerated views such as red=cars, trucks blue=transit, bikes, peds, anti-car. i just dont see how it wouldnt fall into this highly charged path after the health care reform issue. if theres anyone more powerful than the health insurance industry its the oil industry.

Thanks jon

If a transpo bill ever does become controversial for reasons other than the cost or for individual district level projects aka “earmarks,” I think opponents of transportation reform, usually Republicans, will use “social engineering” attacks. Of course, that ignores how the government promotes car use by subsidizing highways to the nth degree and starving out mass transit of needed funds. I’m glad that’s changing though (if a bit too slow for my and probably everyone here’s tastes) because of both the new President and the changing conventional wisdom in Congress.

The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement passed with ease back in 2008. Hopefully, that same spirit will survive in upcoming transit reform bills.

Nitpicking concerns aside, the federal government prioritizes automobile transport to all others through such policies and initiatives as the Interstate Highway Act, federal match guarantees, and transportation funding in appropriations disparities. States are loath to throw away free money, and so, they will follow the federal government’s guiding light with regards to transportation funding formulas.

One major change that needs to happen is to equalize federal match guarantees. That will go a long way to encourage states to do more transit projects.

Hey Guys, I really appreciate this thoughtful assessment but it is fatally flawed. Sometimes you need to look past the data and consider the larger context of Congress and Member support. In a cursory review, there are at least two Republican Senators you missed that would vote for a reauthorization bill. Inhofe and Bond would never obstruct such a bill. Quite the opposite, on more than one occasion each of these Members have spoke on the Senate floor in favor of increased infrastructure spending. In fact, Inhofe has said numerous times that he views the Federal government’s responsibilities to infrastructure spending above his commitments to Fiscal restraint as it is a core component of what a Federal government is responsible for. In fact, he even mentioned that more funding should have been included for Infrastructure in the Stimulus bill.

I understand if this is not something you wanted to include because the data did not lead you to that conclusion, however a thorough assessment would have given it at least a brief mention.


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