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Oberstar criticizes Obama view on transportation plan

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After decades in Washington, Rep. Jim Oberstar knows a little something about how the laws of physics apply to Congress, particularly when it comes to passing legislation.

“Inertia becomes the enemy of progress,” the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said Tuesday, referring to the Obama administration’s plans to delay his $500-billion transportation reauthorization bill for another 18 months.

“And if they don’t understand that at the White House, then I suggest that those highfalutin economists get out of their chauffeured limousines and get on the street and drive like the rest of America and choke in the congestion that is stifling America’s economy and choking our cities. We are ready to move.”

Oberstar’s fighting words came during a press conference with other members of the House Transportation Committee and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, the lead Republican on the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

The event was intended to build momentum behind Oberstar’s six-year transportation revamp plan, which calls for a major reorganization of the Department of Transportation and a 38 percent increase above current funding levels for transportation and infrastructure. The current law expires at the end of September.

But significant hurdles face the feisty Democrat from Minnesota’s Iron Range. Not only has the Obama administration put its favor behind a temporary 18-month patch while Congress tackles climate change and health care legislation, but Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. — chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — have also said they would like the extension.

“We have no consensus on how to fund a transformative [transportation] bill,” Boxer said during a hearing last month. “We do not have a consensus, nowhere close.”

The crammed legislation agenda has also made it hard for Oberstar to gain traction.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee recently told The Hill that their priority was the health care bill, not transportation.

But Oberstar and his plan’s supporters have argued that an extension could encourage states to opt for simple, short-term projects instead of more transformative endeavors that employ more people.

The Environment Committee, however, is expected to vote today on the administration’s 18-month extension plan.

If they vote in favor of the extension, Oberstar may find himself struggling against Newton’s first law of motion: Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.

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