Present, past—and a look to future developments—came together in Room 2167 of the Rayburn House Office Building on Jan. 23 as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's new chairman, Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), took the gavel for the first time.
In the front row of the audience was Bill's father, Bud Shuster, the long-time House power broker who chaired the committee from 1995 to 2001. Bill succeeded his father in a western Pennsylvania House seat.
Bill Shuster in fact had two gavels. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who stepped down as chairman due to House GOP' limits on committee chairs's terms, passed the gavel he had used—it originally belonged to Bud— to the new chairman.
Mica had had Bill's name and the date of the meeting inscribed on the gavel. Mica said, "This is a special gavel...'cause this is wood from..,your dad's barn in Pennsylvania and I'm sure it'll have some special meaning to you and to your family and also to our committee."
Mica, who will remain on the T&I panel, wished Shuster well in his tenure as chairman, and the committee members and nearly all in the audience stood and applauded.
Shuster noted that he had another gavel, made from wood from a tree he had helped cut down and thanked the local Pennsylvania company that made both gavels.
Shuster then thanked Mica and the Floridian's predecessor as T&I chairman, Don Young (R-Alaska). Shuster said, "And then finally there's a third chairman here...the other Chairman Shuster—my father." He also noted that the day marked his father's 81st birthday and said, "So happy birthday, Dad." That sparked a second ovation, from just about everyone in the room, including some lobbyists and others who go back to Bud Shuster's time. Bill introduced his mother, who sat next to Bud, and noted other family members who were in the room, too.
Shuster then talked about his legislative priorities for the T&I panel. "Our agenda is going to be aggressive and very, very busy," he said. It includes passing a new Water Resources Development Act to chart policy and authorize projects for the Army Corps of Engineers, a passenger-rail measure that needs to be reauthorized by the end of September and initial work on a new surface-transportation bill, due by the fall of 2014.
He also said the committee will look at the Highway Trust Fund, whose revenue hasn't kept pace with spending on roads, bridges and transit and has needed infusions in recent years from the general fund to keep its highway account in the black.
Shuster said, "We've got to be able to pay for [surface transportation] in a responsible way. We need to find different funding sources, new funding sources, explore the way we've been collecting the monies for the trust fund...over the past 50 years or so."
The business of the day included approving the new chairs, vice-chairs and ranking Democrats on the panel's six subcommittees and approving committee rules. Shuster said he would "speed-read" through those and other items on the agenda. Time was pressing, because a floor vote was drawing near and members had to make their way to the Capitol before the voting period ended.
The T&I panel has several new members who were elected in November. They were still learning the layout of Capitol Hill and no doubt wanting to ensure they wouldn't miss one of their first scheduled House votes. As the committee session neared its end, Shuster said to the freshmen, "We'll make it over [to the floor] in plenty of time—don't get nervous."
Soon after that, he closed the meeting and headed off to vote.