House Scheme to Kill Transit Promises More Pain at the Pump

So it appears House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invoked the wisdom of Kenny Rogers today. "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and, know when to run." Boehner opted not to bluff by postponing a scheduled floor vote on the House transportation legislation.

Even after his unusual -- dare I say desperate? -- move to split the big, bad bill into three ugly parts Rep. Boehner figured correctly that he didn't have enough support to pull off the tri-fecta. The Democrats were united in opposition to the worst transportation bill ever and a growing number of Republican lawmakers were especially concerned about the bill's blatant attack on transit funding.

Why in the world would Boehner declare war on transit by breaking the 30-year bi-partisan agreement to dedicate a small portion of federal gas tax revenue to building and maintaining the nation's vital system of commuter trains, light rail and buses? Without transit, traffic would be much worse than it already is.

So what is Boehner thinking? Some theorize that he's catering to the extreme right-wing of his own party, offering this legislation as a "love note" to the tea party. In any case, in announcing his decision to punt on the House transportation bill until after the President's Day recess next week, the Speaker's logic continues to be lost on me. Here is what he said this morning:

"This debate is a debate we want to have; ABC News reported last night that we will soon see $4-a-gallon gas prices. Maybe higher. Certainly, this summer will see the highest gas prices in years. Your constituents saw that report, and they'll be talking about it. When they do, tell them about this bill that we're working on."

So let me get this straight. With prices at the pump expected to rise, the GOP Leadership thinks the solution is to throw transit funding under the bus and devote transportation revenue to building more highways. That will have the effect of driving people (pun absolutely intended) away from public transportation and into their cars, clogging our roads even more and keeping us addicted to oil.

Hey, Mr. Speaker, the 1950's called and they want their transportation plan back!

Really, what we have here is a failure to legislate. Or maybe actually trying to pass a bill that will benefit millions of Americans who rely on the transportation system is beside the point. As Ben Goldman, writing for Streetsblog, put it: "By putting out a proposal that departs so radically from 30 years of transportation policy, begun under Ronald Reagan no less, Boehner was practically begging to start a high-profile political fight over this bill."

Mission accomplished, Mr. Speaker. Behold, the Godfather of Gridlock, the proud purveyor of the bill to nowhere.