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Posted at 7:45 PM ET, 08/16/2010

Why I put a hold on the Metro oversight bill

By editors

By Tom Coburn,

Robert McCartney made a number of claims in his Aug. 12 Metro column, “Holding back federal oversight of Metro is a really lousy idea,” that displayed a lack of understanding of the arguments surrounding S. 3638, a bill that would allow the federal government to regulate the safety standards of Metro and transit systems nationwide.

First, borrowing $66 million over three years to pay for this bill is not an action that has “widespread agreement” among the American people. Even if 99 senators agree we should borrow instead of making easy cuts in a federal budget that includes $350 billion in waste, I’m more than happy to stand with the 80 percent of Americans who know this is a bad idea. Still, even if the bill were offset, I would not necessarily lift my hold.

I have yet to find a clause in the Constitution that gives Congress the authority to regulate subway systems that are, by definition, metro specific. Supporters argue that if the federal government can set safety standards for Amtrak and commuter trains, why not subways? In most cases, subways and other local transportation systems are not interstate systems, and therefore the federal government has zero authority to set regulations.

The fact that Congress and the courts stopped taking the Constitution’s Commerce Clause seriously decades ago is not a reason to continue on that path. Ignoring local government is a trend we have to reverse if we are ever going to recover economically.

If Metro is “tone deaf” regarding safety, as the National Transportation Safety Board chairman has said, The Post should demand a house-cleaning within Metro. Borrowing money we don’t have to spend on regulations we don’t need will not make Metro riders any safer.

The writer, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Oklahoma.

By editors  | August 16, 2010; 7:45 PM ET
Categories:  Arlington, Baltimore, D.C., D.C. politics, Fairfax County, HotTopic, Maryland, Metro, Montgomery County, Prince George's County, Prince William County, Purple Line, Takoma, Tysons Corner, traffic, transportation  
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Senator...suggest you need to go back to school...our area's transportation system IS an interstate system. In case you did not know, it runs to and from and within DC, MD and VA.

Posted by: johnklenert | August 17, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Coburn ... isn't he the idiot who wants to turn the shoulders on I-66 into full time traffic lanes? Such great understanding of transportation safety!

Posted by: AMviennaVA | August 17, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Just a couple things.
1) "Easy cuts in a federal budget that includes $350 billion in waste"? Nonsense. Where?
2) You set up a pandering and inaccurate constitutional basis for your craven hold. DC is the responsibility of the Federal government. The Metro is DC's. The Metro is the responsibility of the Federal government. And anyway, I believe it spends no small part of its time in VA, no? Knock it off. Please.
3) "Borrowing money we don’t have to spend on regulations we don’t need will not make Metro riders any safer." a) you can't borrow money you do have, so what are you talking about. b) We don't need better safety oversight on the increasingly dangerous Metro? You cannot be serious. c) Would you lead the chorus to fund a local government initiative to upgrade the Metro? Yeah, right. When pigs fly.
Your use of a hold on this is craven and cruel. Lift it and vote it up or down.
Man up.

Posted by: bobwatts | August 17, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

First Coburn, you need geography lessons. Second, why do you always feel the need to impose your will on the people of this region? If you have been paying any attention, you know how critical the need is to maintain, upgrade and save the system. You abuse your ability to hold-up what is needed by the people of the area. You worry about those that voted for you, we didn't. Let our representatives worry about us. Go home.

Posted by: jckdoors | August 17, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

USA Federal Revenues are $2.4 Trillion and federal spending is $3.57 Trillion. Mandatory Spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, plus) is $2.2 Trillion, and Discretionary spending (defense, two wars, education, homeland security (immigration), NASA, art, culture, manufacturing incentives, agricultural subsidies, government services, etc.,) is $1.37 Trillion. Of that $1.37 Trillion, defense is $722 billion for 2010 and everything else put together is $648 billion.

Nearly all USA annual federal revenue ($2 Trillion) goes towards "Social Security" "Medicare" and "Medicaid". The $722 Billion defense budget for 2010 and all other programs ($648 Billion) rely on borrowing money and adding to the deficit.

***Discretionary Spending: Defense=$722 Billion, All else = $648 Billion***

*** Mandatory Spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) = $2.2 Trillion ***

A GOP filibuster in the Senate recently defeated a bill to give broad based $30 billion in tax breaks to small businesses, thereby blocking their ability to hire and create jobs, but are fighting for repealing the estate tax at a cost of $300~$700 billion over 10 years and $678 billion in tax breaks over 10 years for people making over $250,000/year.

Tom Coburn - How much wasteful spending is in your State??? How much is Oklahoma's Coal pollution costing all other states???

Posted by: Airborne82 | August 17, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I just want to add to Johnklenert's post. Metro is an interstate system established pursuant to an interstate compact that was approved by Congress as is required by the Constitution for all interstate compacts. Also, Metro includes the District of Columbia as its hub, and as Senator Coburn must know, Congress has plenary jurisdiction to legislate for the District.

Posted by: esch | August 17, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

And folks, like it or not, that's how D.C. Metropolitan issues play outside the Beltway.

Posted by: PracticalIndependent | August 17, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Why does Metro leaving the Federal District give the federal bureaucracy jurisdiction over OTHER transit systems wholly within one state?

There's no doubt that the federal government should take over WMATA, but doesn't give it jurisdiction over San Francisco's BART.

Posted by: jiji1 | August 17, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Go back to Oklahoma where you belong

Posted by: yrb1 | August 20, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

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