Father’s Shadow As Transit Leader Hard To Evade For Shuster

Kathleen Hunter
Bloomberg Businessweek

U.S. Representative Bill Shuster’s route home from Washington to Hollidaysburg in central Pennsylvania ends with a 20-mile stretch on the Bud Shuster Highway.

Building the four-lane interstate was among the prizes his father, who served 14 terms in the U.S. House from 1973 to 2001, secured as chairman of the Transportation Committee. It’s a trophy from an era when members like Bud Shuster could bring home federal dollars by earmarking them for projects in their districts.

That changed in this session of Congress, as the Tea Party’s small-government influence started dominating House Republicans’ debates on highway spending and everything else. Earmarks are officially banned. If Bill Shuster, a Republican, achieves his goal of following his father as Transportation Committee chairman, his approach to the job will have to be different.

“We are not our fathers,” Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and son of a former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview. “Times change here, and we grow up in the different times. I don’t have a black-and- white TV just because my dad did.”

Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, boasted earlier this year that he is ushering in a new era of transportation policy, putting forth a five-year highway bill devoid of earmarks.

‘Relationships, Friendships’

In this environment, the 52-year-old Shuster has been working to establish himself as independent from his father. His colleagues say he has developed his own style in building a policy and fundraising resume that could allow him to advance past more senior members the next time the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee gavel is up for grabs.

“Bill’s leadership style is based on relationships, friendships, and he knows that in this environment old-school wielding of power doesn’t work,” North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry, who serves on the whip team with Shuster, said in an interview. “It’s a much more collaborative committee leadership process than it was two generations ago.”

Boehner has assigned Shuster a lead role in rounding up votes for a multiyear reauthorization of spending on the nation’s roads, bridges, highway and mass transit programs. In addition to serving as a lieutenant to Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, Shuster sits on the 33-member Republican Steering Committee, which votes on candidates for panel chairmanships.

No-Tax-Hike Pledge

He is among 238 House members who have signed Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge not to raise taxes. He has a 71 percent career score from the anti-tax group Club for Growth, which ranks him in the middle of the pack among House Republicans.

Shuster said in an interview that he “absolutely” is interested in leading the transportation committee — possibly as soon as January, when the panel’s current chairman, Florida Representative John Mica, may have to give up the chairmanship because of House Republicans’ self-imposed term limits.

“Sure, I would someday be interested in that,” said Shuster, who is married and has two children. “I’m always interested in moving up.”

Shuster in March was co-chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual dinner, which brought in $12 million for the campaign group’s efforts to aid Republican candidates between now and the November election.

Campaign Contributions

Through his leadership PAC, Bill PAC, Shuster had contributed $21,000 to fellow Republicans’ House and Senate campaigns as of April 21, according to OpenSecrets.org, a campaign finance watchdog group in Washington. In 2010, Shuster aided Republicans’ successful House takeover with $59,500 in donations through his leadership PAC to 45 House candidates, Open Secrets data show.

“There’s no doubt that — particularly given the role of money in campaigns today — that a member of Congress who’s able to not have to spend on himself can spend on others, and that becomes very important in securing a committee chairmanship and maintaining support within your delegation and your conference,” said Jon Delano, a political analyst for KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh who teaches public policy at Carnegie Mellon.

Redistricting after the 2010 Census, which trimmed a seat from Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, kept Shuster with a solidly Republican constituency. His current district includes Shanksville, where United Airlines flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, months after Shuster came to Congress. Shuster helped secure funds for a memorial to honor the victims that was dedicated last year.

‘Safe District’

The new district boundaries moved Shuster farther west and more solidly into the Pittsburgh media market, a change that Delano said could help raise the lawmaker’s profile.

“He’s not yet perceived as a key player for the rest of the commonwealth,” Delano said. “He’s in a safe district that guarantees him the same type of longevity that someday might allow him to follow in his father’s committee footsteps.”

Bud Shuster, 80, resigned from Congress in January 2001, after coming up against a term limit as transportation chairman and three months after the House’s ethics committee cited him for “serious official misconduct” stemming in part from his ties to a lobbyist. His son, who ran Shuster Chrysler in East Freedom, Pennsylvania, before coming to Congress, won a special election to replace him that May.

Father’s Projects

Interstate 99, officially named the Bud Shuster Highway, was one in a multitude of projects the former transportation chairman directed home. Shuster sought to build an elevated light-rail system in Altoona, Pennsylvania, a town with fewer than 50,000 residents, and the $218 billion, six-year highway bill he helped to pass in 1998 lifted tolls for Pennsylvania Turnpike drivers traveling between the Breezewood and Bedford interchanges.

A 1991 highway bill included so much money for Shuster’s district that it prompted Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat, to joke that the recipient of the most earmarks in the bill was “the state of Altoona,” according to the Washington Post.

Representative Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican elected in 2008, said the younger Shuster shares his father’s passion for transportation issues.

“He’d come down to the whips’ meetings and he’d make an impassioned plea for somewhat of normalcy when it comes to transportation and it comes to legislating,” Rooney said in an interview, adding that Shuster would argue that “since the beginning of our country, this sort of thing has been a large part of our job as members of Congress.”

Highway Bill

The House is having trouble passing a multiyear highway bill. Last month House lawmakers began negotiations with their Senate counterparts after a series of short-term extensions.

“For those of us that are somewhat new, he’s very approachable and he is extremely pragmatic when it comes to understanding the issues,” Rooney said.

Only about a third of the House’s 242 Republicans had served with Shuster’s father. As that number dwindles, so will whatever lingering associations Shuster’s colleagues have with his father’s legacy, Hunter said.

“Most people don’t even know that his dad was chairman,” Hunter said. “You know how this town works: You’re gone, you’re gone.”

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