» 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|
* 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.)
- HR 3357, 30 July 2009. Passed, 79-17. Index values a “yea” vote.
- Senate Amendment 2223 to HR 3357, 30 July 2009. Failed, 40-57. Index values a “nay” vote.
- HR 1 (stimulus), 13 February 2009. Passed, 61-37. Index values a “yea” vote.
- Motion on Senate Amendment 538 to HR 1 (stimulus), 6 February 2009. Failed, 35-61. Index values a “nay” vote.
- Senate Amendment 179 to HR 1 (stimulus), 4 February 2009. Failed, 32-65. Index values a “nay” vote.
- Motion on Senate Amendment 110 to HR 1 (stimulus), 3 February 2009. Failed, 58-39 (needed 60 votes). Index values a “yea” vote.
- Motion to Concur on HR 2095, 2 October 2008. Passed, 74-24. Index values a “yea” vote.
- S294, 30 October 2007. Passed, 70-22. Index values a “yea” vote.
- HR 3074, 12 September 2007. Passed, 88-7. Index values a “yea” vote.
- Senate Amendment to HR 3074, 10 September 2007. Passed, 60-33. Index values a “yea” vote.