Casey urges action on transportation bill

Published by Tracie Mauriello on .

Washington’s latest partisan logjam could shut down the federal highway improvement program as roads and bridges crumble, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., warned today.

With prospects of a long-term solution dimming, Sen. Casey is throwing his support behind s the PATH Act, Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden’s Band-Aid approach that staves off trouble for six months.

The Oregon Democrat’s Preserving America’s Transit and Highway’s Act would prevent insolvency by providing the Highway Trust Fund with a $9 billion infusion funded by tax hikes.

Republicans on the Finance Committee aren’t satisfied with Wyden’s plan, funded by tax changes. The committee adjourned for a weeklong recess without voting.

Meanwhile, the highway fund has been limping along with a series of short-term fixes enacted over the last several years including an 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax that will expire Sept. 30 without reauthorization.

Mr. Wyden proposed a six-month fix. He offered a menu of pay-fors including measures aimed at getting tax scofflaws to pay up. One measure would revoke passports for delinquent payers and another would require banks to provide additional mortgage information to the Internal Revenue Service, which would help the agency improve tax compliance.

“Getting a long-term transportation bill has to be a central focus,” Mr. Casey said, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t get a short-term agreement done.”

Doing nothing isn’t an option, said Mr. Casey, who is a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

“What we’re facing on transportation is the transportation equivalent of a government shutdown. It’s that simple. It is that stark and disturbing,” he said.

Lawmakers including House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Blair, have said they would consider hiking the gas tax as part of a long-term solution, but Mr. Casey wants to look at other options first.

“We’re going to have a lot of proposals and I’m not willing to support a gas tax without a longer discussion and engagement,” he said. “There are a whole series of other ways to finance a long-term transportation bill.”


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Play ball!

Published by Tracie Mauriello on .

You only need one more than your opponent to win, but chances are U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle won’t settle for that tonight. We’re not talking votes here; we mean runs.

Mr. Doyle, D-Forrest Hills, is in his eighth year coaching the Democrats’ best hitters, bunters and fielders and tonight he has a chance to seal his sixth win as team manager at the annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park.

Mr. Doyle, who had been a star catcher on the team and two-time MVP, took over as team manager when Rep. Martin Sabo of Minnesota retired from Congress and from congressional baseball.

As manager, Mr. Doyle lost his first two games, but has been on a winning streak since 2007. Last year his team shut out the Republicans 22-0.

You could chalk it up to a few standouts on the team including former Morehouse College star pitcher Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana and power hitter Linda Sanchez of California – the only woman on either team. But Mr. Doyle says attributes it to his mandatory 7 a.m. practices over the last month on all but the rainiest of session days.

This is not Little League game. This is hardcore baseball.

“I’m managing a bunch of prima donnas and they all want to play. I tell them I only play my best players and if that’s not OK they probably shouldn’t play with me. In the beginning I benched a lot of players who felt they should have played,” Mr. Doyle said the night before his biggest – OK, his only – game of the year.

Mr. Doyle is the only Pennsylvanian on the Democrats’ team. Meanwhile, the opposing team’s lineup might make you think Pennsylvania is a solid red state. Rep. Lou Barletta of Hazleton is pitching, Rep. Patrick Meehan of Delaware County is playing third and Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair is covering right field.

Several thousand spectators – including many congressional aides, journalists and lobbyists – are expected to attend. The price of admission is $10 and proceeds – expected to be more than $300,000 after expenses – will go to the Boys and Girls Club of Washington, D.C.; the Washington Literacy Council and the Washington Nationals Dreams Foundation.

It’s a good way to raise money for charity and practice the kind of teamwork that isn’t often seen in the capital.

“If we could bring some of the camaraderie on the ball field to the House floor, that would be helpful,” Mr. Doyle said.

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Lawmakers get taken for a ride

Published by Tracie Mauriello on .

House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Blair, is driven to show fellow members of Congress what researchers in his home state are achieving.

Today he hosted Carnegie Mellon University developers of a driverless car, then offered his colleagues rides around the capital so they could see the technology first-hand before they are faced with regulating it.

"Autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies have significant potential to increase transportation safety and efficiency," Mr. Shuster said. "The future of transportation is coming quickly and it's important to provide policymakers with opportunities to gain a better understanding of these kinds of innovations."

He said Congress has to begin planning for the benefits and challenges of new technologies, such as those used to develop driverless cars.

Reps. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., and Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, were among the lawmakers who took rides.

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Rendell blasts Burn

Published by James O'Toole on .

Former Gov. Ed Rendell was sharply critical of the Democratic State Committee and of its chairman, Jim Burn, in the wake of an aborted leadership battle that briefly pitted Mr. Burn against a candidate backed by the party‘‍s gubernatorial nominee, Tom Wolf.

Invoking an informal prerogative of the party nominee, Mr. Wolf had asked state committee members to install Katie McGinty as the party chair at their organizational meeting Saturday.  But Mr. Burn refused to bow to Wolf preference and battled to hold onto the post.  He contended that it was important of the state committee members to make their own choice instead of  accepting the dictates of party leaders.  Rather than press the dispute, Mr. Wolf, in conjunction with his party‘‍s state House and Senate campaign committees, decided to form a new campaign committee separate from the party organization.  Ms. McGinty, a former secretary of environmental resources in the Rendell cabinet, and one of the candidates defeated by Mr. Wolf in the primary, will lead the new committee after dropping her bid for the party post.

Mr. Rendell, the last Democrat elected governor, was scathing in his assessment of the party infighting.  Of the state committee, which comprises members elected from state senate districts across the state, he said, “They have no significance, no political power, no  punch.  They can only raise money if the governor raises money for them.’'

He predicted that the breach over its leadership would marginalize the group through the current election cycle and professed to be baffled by Mr. Burn’‍s intransigence in the face of a candidate who won the nomination in a landslide.

 ”God only knows why he decided to do this," he said of the former Allegheny County councilman.  “He now presides over an organization with no money, no power, no resources."

Mr. Burn, who appears to be about to win a second four-year term as chairman, responded to Mr. Rendell‘‍s criticism with a text message saying, ”The state party is coming off of a successful and historic four-year cycle.  We look forward to building on that success as we move forward, starting with the election of Tom Wolf this November."

In an email to state committee members Friday, he was similarly conciliatory toward the Wolf campaign.  

“Please bring to the meeting your Tom Wolf/Mike Stack [the lieutenant governor nominee] yard signs, window stickers, an any other items which bear the names or our next governor and lieutenant governor,’‍‘‍ he wrote.  ”Please also remember that in every gubernatorial cycle, a committee is formed by the candidate(s) similar to what our Nominee has done.  Therefore, if you have not done so already please reach out and extend best wishes to Tom Wolf and Katie McGinty, letting them know that we, the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee, stand with them in Democratic solidarity as we move to the November election."

Mr. Wolf won’‍t see those signs, however, as he‘‍s decided to skip the party meeting outside Harrisburg.

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McGinty heads new committee, bypassing DSC

Published by James O'Toole on .


   Avoiding a showdown over the leadership of the Democratic State Committee, Katie McGinty has abandoned her candidacy and will instead preside over a new, independent committee to coordinate fundraising for Democratic campaigns this fall.
    Ms. McGinty, a former candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, had been Tom Wolf's choice to lead the party organization.   In an email last week, the nominee asked the committee members to support her.  But Jim Burn, the current chair, refused to defer to Mr. Wolf and insisted that he would remain a candidate for re-election in the group's organizational meeting this weekend outside Harrisburg. As late as Wednesday, speaking at a campaign event in Oakmont, Mr. Wolf maintained that Ms. McGinty remained his choice to head the state party. 
   But Thursday afternoon, Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, who had been Mr. Wolf's choice to be vice chairman of the state party, predicted that the state committee issue would resolved before the day was over.  Mr. Wolf, who was appearing at the same campaign event in Pittsburgh, said he didn't know anything about it.  But within a few hours his campaign had announced the new campaign organization and the recast role for Ms. McGinty.
   The development also means that Mr. Wheatley will not be a candidate for the vice chairmanship.  Assuming that Burn, who is now unopposed, is re-elected, that would preclude Mr. Wheatley's eligibility as party rules specify that if the chair is a man, the vice-chair should be a woman.
   On one level, the development is a win for Mr. Burn who, is poised to hold onto the committee gavel.   But the victory could prove hollow if Wolf and other party leaders bypass him and the traditional DSC organization in fund-raising and other campaign logistics.   In what would inevitably be interpreted as a calculated rebuff, Mr. Wolf's campaign said he would not appear at the committee meeting over the weekend.  One veteran committee member said that it would be the first time in recent memory that a Democratic gubernatorial nominee had failed to show at the party's regular post-primary meeting.

"I would like to congratulate Katie on her new position.  She brings a dynamic personality and skill set that will certianly help Tom Wolf as we move forward," Mr. burn said in a statement.  "We in the state party are happy for Katie and Tom.  We pledge our support and all of our energy to work with Katie and Tom Wolf to remove Tom Corbett, America's least popular governor, from office."

  Ms. McGinty, through the Wolf campaign, released a statement that made no direct reference to the state committee fight.

    "Tom Wolf is a different kind of leader and this will be a different kind of campaign,'' Ms. McGinty said in a statement released by the Wolf operation.  "We need to shake up the status quo, and that goes from changing the way we campaign to changing the way we govern.''

   State Sen. Jay Costa, the leader of Senate's Democratic caucus, welcomed the new entity and called it an asset to the party's effort to recapture the chamber's majority, a goal that's eluded Democrats for decades.
   "I commend Tom Wolf's focus on not only winning the governor's mansion, but flipping the Senate as well,'' he said.
   The state Republican Party issued a statement characterizing the Democratic infighting as a rejection of the candidate who won its nomination in a landslide.
   "For the second time this year, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party has flatly rejected Tom Wolf,  Megan Sweeney, the GOP's communications director, said in a statement.  "Tom Wolf is a typical politician who tried to force his choice for Democratic Party chairman onto a party that doesn't trust his judgment.  While Tom Wolf may be able to create a nice television ad, he's shown a serious inability to energize his party's grass roots network.''
   She referred to the fact that state Treasurer Rob McCord ran ahead of Mr. Wolf in the state committee's winter endorsement vote.  The defeat didn't prove much of a problem for the York businessman, who far outdistanced Mr. McCord and the rest of the Democratic field in the May 20 primary.


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