Those who think GOP stands for "gutting oversized programs" haven't met Representative E.G. Shuster. In March, the Senate tried to slash $140 million for highway programs attached to a $3 billion defense bill. But that was before Shuster, the tenacious chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, weighed in. By the time House and Senate conferees wrapped up the bill on Apr. 5, every cent for highways had miraculously been restored.
Chalk up another win for the Republicans' preeminent Prince of Pork. While his GOP colleagues are hell-bent on downsizing government, former software executive turned lawmaker Shuster (R-Pa.) is determined to spend more federal money--in his own district and those of his many political colleagues. And the 12-term representative, a die-hard Reagan Republican who has voted against just about every Big Government spending plan for two decades, except when it comes to his own domain, could care less if he's labeled a big spender. Shuster, who insists on being called "Bud" rather than by his real first name, Elmer, defends the highway programs as critical to the nation's infrastructure. With bridges and roads crumbling, "we need these projects," he says.
Now, fresh from his victory over the defense bill attachments, Shuster is launching a far more critical transportation battle: In May, he will try to remove from the federal budget the $33 billion in unspent airport and highway trust funds amassed from user fees and tolls. Currently, the trust-fund surplus finances government operations, an accounting technique that discourages Congress from looting the kitty. But if Shuster succeeds, the trust funds would be maintained as a separate account, freeing the dollars to be spent.
The prospect of transforming the trusts into billions in bacon has lured 170 House members to co-sponsor Shuster's measure--a show of strength that alarms deficit hawks. "The [Transportation] Committee would have tremendous power and autonomy," says Representative Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) of the House Budget Committee.
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT. That's fine with Shuster, a jovial, back-slapping pol. The holder of an MBA and a PhD in computer science, he founded software maker C3 Inc. in 1968--four years before being elected to Congress from a rock-ribbed conservative district in the Appalachian Mountains near Altoona, Pa. When his 1980 run for minority whip failed, Shuster deftly used his seat on the transportation panel to build his clout. And, despite being a Republican in a then-Democrat-dominated House, Shuster's ability to help forge bipartisan transportation bills won his district countless porcine projects.
Take U.S. 220 between Altoona and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a multi-lane architectural marvel named the Bud Shuster Highway. It was built at a cost of $90 million, 80% from federal funds, he said. In fact, the 1991 transportation bill brought more money to Pennsylvania--$934 million--than to any other state. That included $287 million for Shuster's district, more than what many states received. "This process presents temptations to the purest of saints to feed at the public trough," grouses Joe Winkelmann, director of governmental affairs with Washington (D.C.)-based Citizens Against Government Waste.
Shuster tried to build an elevated light rail system in Altoona. But the city fathers bowed out of the $25 million project when they realized they didn't have the expertise to maintain it. The citizenry appreciated the thought, however. In fact, Shuster is so popular he rarely faces opposition. The last time he was challenged was in 1984, when the Democrats put up Nancy Kulp. She played Miss Jane, the dowdy assistant to flinty bank president Mr. Drysdale on the sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. Shuster won by a lopsided 67% to 33% vote. Today, even local opponents appreciate Shuster's muscle. "We're glad to have him," says Thomas K. Healy, a state Democratic committeeman from Shuster's district. "Before Bud, we never got anything from the government."
GOOD GOVERNMENT. Key to Shuster's clout is his willingness to share the wealth, liberally funding demonstration projects to help win votes for fellow incumbents regardless of party (table). Shuster supported the Tasman Corridor, a 12.4-mile commuter rail line linking Milpitas and Mountain View, Calif., in the congressional district of Democratic ally Norm Y. Mineta, ranking member of the House Transportation Committee. The Federal Transit Administration estimates it would cost up to $33 to attract each new rider--five times as much as the agency says is acceptable. Total estimated cost: $500 million.
Shuster will need all the friends he can muster on both sides of the aisle to pull off his latest money move. He contends that taking the trust funds off the budget and spending it is simply good government. Consumers for years have been paying an 18.3 cents-a-gallon gas tax and a 10% airline ticket tax, but the money hasn't been spent on transportation improvements.
"It's the ethical thing to do," Shuster insists, dismissing critics who snipe that the Pennsylvanian is trying to create his own fiefdom. Those detractors, he adds, "are throwing up a smokescreen, trying to confuse the issue." Shuster is even willing to play hardball to strengthen his bid: If his plan is thwarted, he threatens to push to cut the gas and airline taxes, making any drive to balance the budget even more difficult.
While it remains to be seen whether his gambit will succeed, Shuster already has made one point clear: The ascent of antigovernment Republicans hasn't ended business-as-usual on Capitol Hill.