WASHINGTON -- Blair County Republican Bill Shuster greeted reporters with a broad smile Wednesday in his first roundtable with journalists since his caucus selected him as chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Then he got down to business, telling reporters he would consider increasing the 18.4 cents per gallon gasoline tax as part of a wide-ranging package of measures being explored as a means of avoiding $600 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect in January.
"You've got to look at all your options out there. Is it something difficult? Sure, but I think it's one of those things we need to look at," he said two hours after he secured the chairmanship in a vote of the House Republican Conference.
Mr. Shuster, who has been on Transportation and Infrastructure for 11 years, takes over in January for John Mica of Florida, who led Republicans on the committee for the last six years. Caucus-imposed term limits prevented him continuing.
The chairmanship makes him the highest ranking Pennsylvanian in Congress.
"This is something I've wanted for a long time because I believe transportation is critical to the United States of America and to our economy," he told reporters in the Cannon House Office Building. "There are a lot of things that unite Americans, and a lot of them are ideals, freedoms and those sorts of things, but what hard-wires us -- what physically connects this country -- is the transportation system."
He said he'll be looking out for the state's transportation needs -- particularly rehabilitation of deficient bridges, locks and dams -- but he'll do it with the nation's broader needs in mind.
"I've got to be the chairman for 50 states but I'm going to make sure I'm paying close attention to my constituents and my state, but at the same time make sure it's fair," he said. "It's not just about Pennsylvania ... it's about getting from Pennsylvania to the Port of Baltimore or the Port of Los Angeles."
He follows in the footsteps of his father, Bud Shuster, who chaired the committee from 1995 to 2001, and who was known for bringing pork barrel projects back to the Altoona area.
Now that Congress has ended earmarking, it will be hard for his son to do the same, but the state's infrastructure needs are so great that there ought to be enough justification to bring projects home, said, Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Delaware County, who also serves on the committee. For example, Pennsylvania has more structurally deficient bridges than any other state.
Mr. Meehan said he respects Mr. Shuster even though the two have butted heads on occasion -- for example, over whether gasoline taxes should be used to support mass transportation.
He said Mr. Shuster is less ideological than Mr. Mica and more likely to look for common ground.
"Bill has a very good demeanor and an ability to communicate with people. He's a consensus builder," Mr. Meehan said. "He's very easy to get to know, and he's effective at including others."
Washington Bureau chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-996-9292.