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House and Senate Split on Approach to Obama’s Transit Safety Plan

After a year marked by discord between the House and Senate
over the timing of the next federal transportation bill, another split
emerged yesterday over the timetable for taking up the Obama
administration's plan for federal involvement in transit safety oversight.

micacommuterrail196f.jpgRep.
John Mica (R-FL) opposes the White House safety plan, but he also wants
to see it debated as part of broader transport legislation. (Photo: Orlando Sentinel)

Speaking
to the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) annual
conference, aides to both House infrastructure committee chairman Jim
Oberstar (D-MN) and Rep. John Mica (FL), the panel's top Republican,
said they aim to make the White House's proposed transit safety
legislation part of the broader debate over restructuring federal
transport programs -- an issue that may not come before Congress until next year.

But
an adviser to the Senate Banking Committee's senior Republican, Richard
Shelby (AL), said he wants the transit safety bill to be "a
free-standing piece of legislation and not wait until" lawmakers can
agree on a long-term federal transport bill.

In remarks
that touched on the continuing impasse over that six-year transport
bill, Oberstar aide Amy Scarton asked APTA members to provide input on
the White House transit safety proposal, which has gotten mixed reviews
from transit officials. The safety legislation is set to move through
the House "as part of the long-term surface transportation bill," she
said.

Meanwhile, Mica remains opposed to the Obama team's
strategy of asking state transit overseers (known as SSOs) to submit to
federal supervision if their programs are deemed out of compliance with
minimal safety standards, according to aide Joyce Rose. The Floridian
would prefer to bolster individual SSOs with grant money to avoid
"creating a new federal bureaucracy," she said.

But Rose
agreed with Scarton that transit safety should move as part of the
broader transport bill, a perspective that runs counter to the
administration's hopes for quick passage of its proposed legislation.

After
the House aides spoke, Shannon Hines -- who served as Shelby's chief of
staff before moving to the Banking panel in 2007 -- expressed her boss'
differing view on the transit safety debate.

It remains to
be seen whether other senators share his view on the timing for safety
legislation. An adviser to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) did not mention the
retiring Banking chairman's preferred approach yesterday, and a
spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a leading voice
on transit safety, told Streetsblog Capitol Hill that the Maryland
senator is "looking at all the options" in order to approve the
administration's safety plan "as quickly as possible."

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