12:00 p.m. The title of Congressman Jim Oberstar’s (MN-08) talk today at the Humphrey Institute is “Transportation Policy and America’s Future.” Oberstar is the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, after serving more than a decade as its ranking Democratic member. In part due to the 17-term Congressman’s Chairmanship, Oberstar was ranked by Congress.org this year as the most powerful MN delegate in the U.S. House, and the 51st most powerful House member in the body.
12:05 p.m. Oberstar — 44 years prior – served as a clerk for a Transportation subcommittee (Rivers and Harbors), which makes him the first staffer to ever become chair of a committee in the history of the House.
12:10 p.m. Oberstar stresses the importance of investing in transportation, throughout the history of the development of the U.S. The Congressman has held 59 hearings already this session, and more than a dozen bills have been passed by the committee. Twenty-eight transportation bills and resolutions have been passed by the House this year.
12:15 p.m. Oberstar demonstrates how improved transportation infrastructure is key for U.S. business (e.g. agriculture) to compete on the international market. He states under his Committee leadership the House has passed key legislation – such as expanding the locks on the Mississippi – which will help lower these transportation costs.
12:20 p.m. The Transportation Committee is known for generally being one of the more bi-partisan committees in the House of Representatives (unlike other powerful committees, such as the Committee on the Judiciary or the Committee on Ways and Means).
12:23 p.m. It will be interesting to see if Oberstar discusses the federal role in rebuilding the lock system in and around New Orleans now almost two years after Hurricane Katrina (and, if not, whether an audience member will raise the issue).
12:25 p.m. Pork has often been associated with transportation legislation – and the number of questionable transportation projects that have been contemplated and undertaken in recent years is long (e.g. the Bridge to Nowhere, the Big Dig etc.). Oberstar, for his part, has been able to bring one-quarter of the state’s federal transportation to his own Congressional district (which has just one-eighth of the state’s population).
12:35 p.m. Congressman Oberstar’s knowledge of and passion for transportation is quite evident, as he speaks with great enthusiasm in his authoritative baritone. Oberstar speaks with downright glee about his newfound position of power as committee chair and the legislation they are able to undertake – such as requiring solar power energy plans for federal office buildings.
12:40 p.m. Center for the Study of Politics and Governance Director Larry Jacobs now moderates a question and answer session with the Congressman. Oberstar describes his power as committee chairman as the ‘power of initiative.’
12:45 p.m. Oberstar states he is against re-regulation of the airline industry. The federal government still has a role in airline security, of course, and Congress will step in regarding monopolistic actions etc. He also adds “essential air service” (requiring airlines – with federal funds – to provide air travel to remote, smaller communities – such as International Falls in his own district) is still important. Some 150 communities have been so designated by the federal government.
12:55 p.m. Oberstar expresses his frustration with Governor Pawlenty and the state legislative republicans who prevented the passage of DFL-led legislation to provide additional funds in Minnesota (through taxation) for state transportation projects this legislative session. The Congressman jokes he would liked to have “traded governors” with Wisconsin for one legislative session.