The new two-year Congress commences on January 5th and it promises to be different in ways beyond the changed list of sworn-in men and women.
In fact I think that we could see the start of some structural changes in Washington and maybe…just maybe…something good could come out of it. Am I betting on it? No. Washington is too fond of the fetal position.
However this time issues of a more fundamental nature are getting attention. Those issues have been around for a long time, long before ARRA, TARP and the big dollar spending and tax cuts necessitated by the severe drop in the economy. And it appears that some spines were stiffened in the last election and not just on the Republican side. There appears to be more universal acknowledgment than ever before as to:
- Growing entitlement programs that dominate non-defense spending and with predicted revenue shortfalls.
- A large defense budget we can’t afford to leave off the table when cutting spending.
- A tax system in need of a significant overhaul and simplification.
- An infrastructure policy of disinvestment that makes our transportation less efficient and dooms us to second place status in the world economy.
- Our economic and national security in the hands of oil producing countries most of which, at best, do not share our democratic values.
There is a potential for consensus that could slowly build around putting in order the nation’s fiscal house and addressing other policy deficits. It is possible. (Then again I thought it was reasonable to expect the Giants to take on the New Jersey label when they made the move to the Meadowlands.)
Still, hope persists because those are serious problems that undermine our long term competitiveness.
Closer to home…there are comparatively smaller issues that are fundamental in their own way and deserve attention in the new Congress. Wading into the policy weeds, here are some things I would like to see Congress address over the next two years:
- A vigorous marine highway program built on the converging imperatives to reduce petroleum consumption and emissions in the transportation sector.
- Leverage private investment dollars in new vessel construction and incentives for users of blue and brown water service.
- Encourage State initiatives to adopt marine highways as elements in the interstate transportation system.
- Waive the Harbor Maintenance Tax for intermodal cargo moving in the domestic trade.
- Improving understanding of marine transportation and the contribution it makes and, even more, can make.
- Examine what is needed to update a US maritime policy to enable the private sector to break the cycle of decline and the public sector to incorporate US flag shipping in surface transportation improvements.
- Improve funding and human resources for the Maritime Administration, which remains a lesser modal agency in the USDOT family.
- Renew the effort to coordinate and elevate maritime related issues among the many agencies including more buy-in by USDOT, the one department that has the most to gain.
- Fixing Federal water resources policy, especially as regards navigation.
- Ensure port channel maintenance funding on a par with Harbor Maintenance Tax collections.
- Fix the too-long flawed, too-long Federal (WRDA) process of planning, funding and constructing navigation projects.
- Distinguish between frivolous earmarking and the prosecution of fully vetted navigation projects that provide economic security in most regions of the country.
The difference between the list above and the list below is that the latter is more politically doable…if Congress and the Administration would pay it attention. Pbea (this entry is a revised version 1.4.11)