Capitol Words a project of the Sunlight Foundation

  • and

Surface Transportation Act

Sen. Max Baucus

legislator photo

Mr. President, the British statesman Edmund Burke said:

All government--indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act--is founded on compromise and barter.

Compromise and barter. That means give-and-take in order to work things out.

I want to apply Burke's famous aphorism to the two leaders of the Environment and Public Works Committee, the chairman, Senator Barbara Boxer of California, and the ranking member, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma--one of the Senate's leading liberals and one of the Senate's most dyed-in-the-wool conservatives.

While Senators Boxer and Inhofe openly acknowledge there is much they do not agree on, they both agree transportation infrastructure is a smart investment in America's road safety and jobs. So they worked hard to craft a consensus highway bill that three-quarters of the Senate could agree to support. I have always believed this kind of cooperation is the key to success. We can do great things for this country when we work together.

When I had the honor of leading the Environment and Public Works Committee, I also had the truly distinct pleasure of working with Senators from both parties who understood Burke's principle of barter and compromise, such as John Warner of Virginia and John Chafee of Rhode Island. So it is very gratifying to know that tradition on the Environment and Public Works Committee continues to be strongly upheld by the chairman and the ranking member today.

In working to craft the highway bill, both of these leaders faced pressures not to compromise. Each had ample opportunity to give into those pressures and give up on the bill. But instead of drawing lines in the sand and pointing fingers, they chose to reach out their hands and meet in the middle. They talked to each other and, more importantly, they listened. They opted for pragmatism over ideology. They disagreed without being disagreeable. They worked closely with Senator Vitter and myself to incorporate the best ideas from all sides. Ultimately, those good-faith efforts prevailed when the committee reported our highway bill title with unanimous support.

We continued working together to meld that product with contributions from the Banking Committee and the Commerce Committee, along with a fiscally responsible plan to pay for this investment from the Finance Committee.

Earlier this month, 75 percent of the Senate came together to pass a highway bill that will create or sustain approximately 1.8 million American jobs each year. That is according to the Department of Transportation. What a tremendous achievement reached by working together--creating or sustaining 1.8 million jobs a year. For my State of Montana, this bill will create or sustain 14,000 jobs each year, and it cuts through redtape to put people to work on those jobs even faster. It gives the State of Montana and our local communities the flexibility they need to fund the alternative transportation projects that work best for them. It invests in the Land and Water Conservation Fund and continues a vital program to support our timber communities. It does it all without adding one single dime to the Federal deficit.

Simply put, this bill is an investment in jobs we can't afford to pass up. That is why this weekend Montana's largest newspaper, the Billings Gazette, called on the House to pass the Senate bill, and I join that call today.

The current highway bill expires at the end of this month, and the construction season is starting soon. As the Gazette notes, a short-term extension doesn't provide the certainty we need to get highway projects off the ground and workers on the job. We cannot afford to put these jobs on hold by kicking the can down the road--especially when we don't have to, and, also, especially when we don't have much more road to kick the can.

The Senate bill is the product of months of debate and cooperation, of give-and-take from all sides, carefully crafted into a bipartisan investment we can all be proud to support. It has already passed the test of overwhelmingly bipartisan support in the Senate, and there is no reason the House should not take up this bill and pass it right away.

The House should understand that we need to work together to achieve solutions upon which the American people can rely. Edmund Burke understood that. Thankfully, Senators Boxer and Inhofe clearly understand it too. I thank them for that.