Shutting Us Out

Feb. 12, 2007

I never thought a gavel smashing down on a big oak table could cover up the sounds of tapping beer kegs so effectively.

I never thought a gavel smashing down on a big oak table could cover up the sounds of tapping beer kegs so effectively.

What am I saying? The House of Representatives made no secret of its college “winter” break binging when a member or two got up in front of the prestigious surroundings and asked that the Congressional station close for a day so those interested could attend or watch the national championship football game between Florida and Ohio State. They made it sound formal enough, but the rough translation went like this, “Dudes, we need to blow off class on Monday so we can party hard over a three-day weekend.”

The new and questionably powerful Democrats made it sound like all hands would be on deck during a swashbuckling frenzy of Congressional action during the first 100 days of the new year. Fresh Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi pledged a five-day work week where pivotal appropriations bills would be grilled and served like McDonald’s hamburgers during the dinner rush. To the Senate’s credit, it stayed in business on Jan. 8. The House on the other hand, despite coming off an extended holiday break, scoffed at the notion of taking semester exams so early and instead opted to crash at a buddy’s house for the weekend. In the meantime, almost $4 billion in funding for highways and transit still stands shaking on top of this country’s financial gallows wondering if it will be hanged or spared.

This is not how I expected a changed attitude to unroll on the steps of Capitol Hill. I know Congress is famous for taking obnoxious breaks, but think about this for a minute. Have you ever taken a day off to watch a football game during the heat of a deadline? Sadly, I never had the chance of attending my great-grandmother’s funeral a decade ago. Why? Because I had a sports section to produce and there was nobody around who could fill in for me. I had readers to serve, and the newspaper stops for nothing. There is something to be said for holding respect for the deadline, and there is something to be said for politicians who ignore the very soul of their professional being, which is to serve the common people of this country. I just can’t put it in print.

I know what some of you might be saying, screaming or seathing. I mean, we are only talking about one day and Congress does have until Feb. 15 to make spending official for 2007. However, character is defined when you are breathing down a mud wall in the trenches of warfare. The fact our representatives refused to jump right in is repulsive.

The bottom line is state departments of transportation are facing a merciless firing squad. New York state could be losing $42 million in highway funds because Congress has failed to enact FY 2007 spending programs. The CorridorOne, a transit line from Lancaster to Harrisburg, Pa., may be pulled altogether. Massachusetts has reported that $1.6 million for the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority facility was canned and $750,000 for improvements to Rte. 31 were scratched.

The list of shorted agencies runs long and now becomes more pronounced because the House was thinking about all the different ways it could do the wave at a college football game. Making matters worse is it probably was the most anticlimactic contest in the history of the sport. Even Florida fans yawned more than they cheered after halftime. But, God bless them, our political servants were there to see it. Of course, when was the last time any of them saw a major Congressional victory?

About The Author: Bill Wilson is the Editorial Director of Roads & Bridges. He can be reached at [email protected].

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