Younger Shuster may chair transportation committee
Retired U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, right, congratulates his son, Bill, in 2001 for clinching the Republican nomination to fill the elder Mr. Shuster's 9th District seat. Bill Shuster will follow in his father's footsteps again if he is named chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
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WASHINGTON -- Bud Shuster was criticized for pork-barrel spending as often as he was credited with shepherding key projects that built Pennsylvania's infrastructure.
Now it appears the former congressman's son, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair, could take over as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the powerful position the elder Mr. Shuster held from 1995 to 2001, when term-limit rules prevented him from continuing for a seventh year.
Those same rules require Rep. John Mica, R-Fla, to step down at the end of the year. Mr. Mica, however, has been pressing for a waiver that would allow him to stay on as chairman. Waivers are seldom granted, but Mr. Mica has been arguing that he's led the committee for only two years; during his first four, Democrats were in control and he was the ranking minority member, not chairman.
Without a waiver, another Shuster could be in line to steer the committee. That, of course, is dependent on the GOP holding onto the majority next term.
It also depends on agreement of the 34-member House Republican Steering Committee, which is responsible for committee assignments. Bill Shuster is a member of that committee, so at least one vote is assured. And he's a reliable conservative who is in the good graces of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who controls four votes on the steering committee.
"He seems to enjoy a good relationship with John Boehner, and I think John Boehner looks to him for his advice on transportation issues," noted Delaware County Republican Pat Meehan, who also serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Brendan Buck, spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said Thursday that he could not speculate on decisions that are months away.
Committee members and staffers in other Republican offices, though, said they wouldn't be surprised to see the six-term Pennsylvania representative land the post.
"From the get-go, even as a new member of Congress, he has always been very, very engaged on transportation issues, and I'm sure his dad's work rubbed off," said one GOP aide, who asked not to be identified.
Bud Shuster, who became a transportation lobbyist after leaving Congress, said his son's chances are strong.
"There are several guys senior to him, and yet all the money seems to be on him," he said. "I'm thrilled that Bill has been doing so well. He's been working hard for so many years and his dedication has largely been to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and on Pennsylvania."
Bill Shuster, who was not available for comment Friday, is chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure's subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials and also has led the subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, Energy and Management.
"Bill Shuster understands transportation issues intimately, and he has earned the respect of colleagues," Mr. Meehan said. "He's an energetic guy, and he digs into the issues."
Ascension would make him the highest-ranking Pennsylvanian in Congress and the first member from the state to chair a congressional committee since his father resigned in 2001.
"It would give us clout," Mr. Meehan said. "It's not just things like highways and rail. There's all manner of issues surrounding the growth of Marcellus Shale and the combined implications of that. It would be a huge asset to Pennsylvania to have someone from Pennsylvania" leading the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Pennsylvania has lost a lot of its pull in Washington since 1996 when its representatives controlled four of the House's 21 committees, including transportation.
"Years ago, Pennsylvania was a powerful state because of those chairmen. We don't have that now, and we know Pennsylvania ranks worst in the nation in terms of the number of roads and bridges in need of repair," said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. "It would be good to have someone chairing the committee who understand the roads, the sewers, the bridges, the locks, the dams, the pipelines and everything" like Bill Shuster does.
If he gets the post, Bill Shuster's challenges will be different from the ones his father faced. The elder served before earmarks were banned and before the drilling of expansive natural gas reserves that are spurring changes in the nation's energy delivery infrastructure.
The younger Shuster's possible chairmanship could be made easier by the groundwork his father laid in a legendary battle that prevented the government from tapping the Highway Trust Fund for non-transportation projects. Whoever becomes chairman will benefit from having that designated funding source to advance transportation policy.
"Republican leadership was against me and the Democratic president, Bill Clinton, was against me ... but I had a groundswell of support from the country," said Bud Shuster, who seldom bucked the party line on issues other than transportation.
"There are issues on which you have to be partisan, but not transportation. There's no such thing as a Republican bridge or a Democrat bridge. These are American assets," he said.
The younger Shuster appears to share that philosophy, fellow delegation members said.
"He's a member's member who works very well in Congress and is highly respected," Mr. Murphy said. "He'll make sure the funds follow the need and that they're distributed around the country fairly."
One of Bill Shuster's major transportation initiatives is a new law increasing civil penalties for irresponsible operators of pipelines carrying oil, natural gas or hazardous liquids. The penalties provide another incentive for operators to properly mark pipelines and comply with safety standards.
Mr. Shuster also has been a proponent of legislation that would increase private-sector rail service, creating competition for Amtrak that would prompt the subsidized railway to improve service.
Next term the committee is expected to consider a broad spectrum of legislation involving highways, electric grid regulation and the movement of energy through oil and gas pipelines.
First Published May 20, 2012 12:00 am