Conservative Congress Takes America Down Ragged Path To Ruin Research Paper

Length: 22 pages Sources: 15 Subject: Transportation Type: Research Paper Paper: #84712398 Related Topics: Freight, Suv, Field Trip, A Worn Path
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U.S. Infrastructure Is in Jeopardy and Consequently So Are We

The federal highway trust fund is the fiscal foundation of the highway system in the United States. Without adequate funding, highway construction stalls and road construction workers are out of work. Congress has dallied with the economic future of America for years as it refused to pass a multiyear transportation bill. The reason for this is likely to be readily apparent to most people: the conservative Congress does not want to increase taxes, even to fund repairs and new roads to meet the infrastructure needs of the country.

A recent study from the White House reports that more than two-thirds of the nation's roadways need to be repaired and that the continued dilapidation results in higher eventual costs that run into the billions of dollars (Runningen, 2014). The 27-page report released mid-July 2014 by the Council of Economic Advisers and National Economic Council was published in part as the President made his bid to Congress to replenish the Highway Trust Fund that was nearing insolvency (Runningen, 2014). A key message of the report was the inadvertent economic costs of allowing such a poor condition in America's infrastructure (Runningen, 2014). Economic growth is severely impacted by crumbling roads and bridges, which are in such disrepair, they have become dangerous. The situation was cogently summarized in the report: "A well-performing transportation network keeps jobs in America, allows businesses to expand, and lowers prices on household good to American families" (Runningen, 2014). Experts call for a long-term resolution and argue that an estimated $4.6 trillion is needed to repair the nation's roads and bridges. In terms of international status for transportation and infrastructure funding, the United States has dropped from a position of 7th, which it held in the past decade, to a position as 18th. The current status of American infrastructure is so poor that 65% of U.S. roads are rated as "less than good condition" and one in four U.S. bridges "require significant repair or cannot handle today's traffic" (Runningen, 2014). Simply building more rails, roads, and ports does not solve the challenges of repairing and upgrading national infrastructure and transportation. Even when funding is available and adequately allocated, implementing national infrastructure and transportation projects is some of the most complex policy in which government at all levels engages.

This discussion addresses the relationship between funding and the condition of infrastructure and transportation in the United States, and offers a brief explanation of how the congressional budgetary, program authorization, and appropriations processes occur. The transportation authorization bill is a pivotal topic in the discussion, particularly for the way it illustrates the partisan tension that is driving the highway construction crisis. The most recent tragic railroad accident that occurred in Philadelphia on May 12, 2015, when Northeast Regional Train No. 188 careened off the tracks at 106 miles per hour, illustrates these relationships, as well as serving as a point of discussion about the substantive decay of infrastructure and transportation that locates America in twelfth position, as articulated at the last global summit. A closer look at the impact of crumbling infrastructure and transportation on cities underscores the significance of the transportation authorization bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. The discussion considers the new threat of oil tank cars that are significantly vulnerable to fires and explosions. The paper concludes with an extended consideration of the impact that inadequate funding has on regulatory oversight of maintenance and safety inspections.

Funding Issues for U.S. Transportation

On May 12, 2015, an Amtrak training traveling many miles per hour over the approved speed for the section rail on which it was traversing went off the tracks, causing a multicar train car crash that left eight passengers dead and scores more seriously injured. The engineer driving the train survived, and at the time of this writing, the problems that contributed to the crash -- and the engineer's role in the crash, if any -- have not been disclosed by the investigation, which is still active but paced conservatively out of consideration for the shaken trainman and passengers. Hours after the crash, a Congressional Appropriations Committee voted to cut the Amtrak budget. The puzzling logic behind this decision was not made any clearer by the top House Appropriations Democrat Nita Lowey of New York, who asserted that, "While we don't know the cause of this accident, we do know that starving rail of funding will not enable safer train travel" (Caygle, 2015).

Congressional budgeting and appropriations. When discussing the Congressional budget and appropriations activities,...


Budgetary processes that include the President's annual budget proposal, congressional budget resolutions, and the 302(b) allocation precede appropriations bills. Article I, section 9, clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution states that, "No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law." Through this constitutional authority, Congress is granted the power to make appropriations and the President has the power to veto appropriations bills.

Appropriations bills both set aside money for and give money to specific departments, agencies, and programs of the federal government. These allocations ensure that money is available for activities, equipment, operations, and personnel. Each year, appropriations bills are passed to cover spending for one fiscal year, an accounting period that begins each October 1 and ends on September 30 of the following year. Moreover, some programs are authorized, but that doesn't mean they are funded. For instance, Congress did reauthorize Amtrak this year, but the Appropriations Committee actually took money away from the appropriations bill that would ensure enforcement of the protections that were named in the reauthorization.

The United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch has jurisdiction over the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2015. This 2015 bill covers appropriations for the United States Congress and related agencies. Appropriations bills are considered simultaneously with the House Committee on Appropriations reports in May and the Senate Committee on Appropriations reports in June. Differences that the House and the Senate have on the appropriations bills need to be resolved in the fall of the year. The Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2015 is a typical appropriations bill.

The importance of appropriations bills is apparent from the Congressional sessions in 2013, when Congress failed to pass 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2014 before the October 1, 2013 start date of the new federal fiscal year. The congressional impasses resulted in the 2013 16-day shutdown of the United States federal government. In order to bring the shutdown to an end and suspend the debt limit until February 17, Congress passed the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014, which President Obama signed after shortly after midnight on October 17, 2013. Once burned, as the saying goes, Hal Rogers, Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, has a goal of passing all 12 of the regular appropriations bills of 2015 before the Congressional recess in August.

Of the 12 regular appropriations bills for 2015, the bill that covers transportation and infrastructure is the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015, which covers the agencies of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The relevant house bill (H.R. 4745; 113th Congress) is for $52 billion, with $17 billion going to the United States Department of Transportation and $40.3 billion going to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The bill appropriates $1.8 billion less than what was spent in fiscal year 2014. The "Minibus" amendment to H.R. 4660 is for $120 billion.

Is the Canary Still Alive?

Railroad safety is like the canary in a cage that miners used to signal dangerous levels of hazardous gases or a lack of oxygen in the mineshafts. The trouble with that archaic system was that by the time the canary died, the miners were likely to die, too. Those who would like to buy time -- and not spend money -- to take preventative and proactive action to address the crumbling U.S. infrastructure have apparently decided to use American railroads as the canary in the cage. Except that, they the debate -- they insist -- can't be about whether the mines are safe due to structural aging or whether there has been adequate spending for repairs; it needs to be about whether human error (acts committed by miners or their supervisors) caused them to enter mines that collapsed on them, and which provided coincidental evidence of, well, crumbling and tumble down.

Trains and vehicles don't share the road, but they do share the intersections that have railroad crossings (Buettner & Fitzsimmons, 2015). Tens of thousands of railroad crossings in America are grade crossings, a label that indicates that vehicles will cross the tracks at the level of the rails on which the train travels (Buettner & Fitzsimmons, 2015). Sometimes, these grade crossings have gates that…

Sources Used in Documents:


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