McCain Earned Reputation for Opposition to Earmarks

Posted July 23, 2008 at 4:16pm

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) has made a name for himself in at least one area of transportation policymaking during his years in Congress: as an outspoken opponent of pet-project earmarks.

McCain has battled his colleagues over transportation bills larded with earmarks. In his presidential campaign, he advertised his opposition to the $223 million “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska, a project supported by his fellow Republicans. He blamed Congressional earmarking for the collapse of an Interstate bridge in Minneapolis that killed 13, noting that too much money went to pet projects instead of basic safety and construction.

On transportation, McCain may have made his mark in Congress, but not too many friends.

On his presidential campaign Web site, he highlights the need to end U.S. dependency on foreign oil and support flex-fuel vehicles and alcohol-based fuels.

McCain was absent for all major transportation votes during the 110th Congress, with the exception of his March 6, 2007, vote against tabling an amendment offered by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) that revised the personnel management practices of the Transportation Security Administration.

McCain has, however, made known his opinions on railroads and, more specifically, Amtrak.

Through the years, he has opposed Amtrak funding, voting against Sen. Arlen Specter’s (R-Pa.) amendment in 2000 to allow Amtrak to continue to participate in the General Services Administration’s vehicle-leasing program as if it were a government entity.

“Be assured I also stand ready to fight Amtrak’s efforts to obtain a $10 billion bond funding scheme when it hasn’t even fulfilled the first and quite substantial statutory obligation to operate free of taxpayer assistance,” McCain said in 2000.

McCain backed legislation to improve railway security, however, citing the possibility of terrorist attacks.

Last year, he introduced the Rail Security Act with Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Joseph Biden (D-Del.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), calling for almost $1.2 billion for improved rail security.

“It is essential that we move expeditiously to protect all the modes of transportation from potential attack, and this legislation will help to do just that,” McCain said.

McCain also introduced the Rail Passenger Service Improvement Act in the 107th Congress, but the bill was never debated. It called for a new rail passenger system that would be overseen by the Transportation Department and operated by competing franchises, including Amtrak, which would have required Amtrak to be restructured. McCain intended the bill to address “Amtrak’s financial and operational crisis,” according to his statement.

The candidate has opposed transportation proposals he thought were over budget and stuffed with special projects.

In 2007, he urged the rejection of the spending bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development because it was $3 billion more than the Bush administration’s budget request and contained more than $2 billion in earmarks.

“Instead of allowing states the ability to allocate their highway dollars to their most pressing needs, like deficient bridges, we are funding a significantly higher level of bike paths and highway beautification projects and sidewalk improvements,” McCain said in a Sept. 12, 2007, statement.

In 2005, McCain voted against the highway bill, the gargantuan authorization bill for highway and transit programs. Although McCain said he supported reauthorization in his floor statement, he stressed the need to control spending and called wasteful the 5,634 earmarks totaling $21.6 billion in the bill.

“We are no longer focused on building a unified transportation system to improve the safety, security and economy of our nation as whole,” McCain said. “Instead, we are faced with legislation that redistributed funding to the states in a fiscally irresponsible and grossly unfair manner.”

Because of the presidential campaign, McCain did not play a pivotal role on legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration. According to a May 9, 2006, statement before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security, he said he supported foreign investment in domestic air carriers.

“Rather than limiting the sources of funding for our nation’s airlines, we should be making sure that they have all the capital they need to manage and expand their operations domestically and abroad,” McCain said.