Bud Shuster, 1932-2023

Former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman E.G. “Bud” Shuster (R-PA) died today at age 91 of complications from a fractured hip suffered several weeks ago.

Current T&I chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) announced the death on behalf of the Shuster family.

Shuster chaired the T&I Committee at the height of its political power, from 1995-2000, when the 1998 TEA21 law secured the panel primacy over the rival Appropriations Committee in a decades-long struggle for control of highway funding levels.

A native of Allegheny County and a former computer salesman, Shuster was first elected to the House in 1972, was elected president of his freshman GOP class, and immediately gained a seat on the then-Public Works Committee. By luck of the draw, he started out tenth in seniority on what was then just a 16-person Republican roster. Then, the 1974 Watergate elections took out so many Republicans that Shuster, from an ultra-safe Appalachian Pennsylvania district, moved up to sixth in seniority on the GOP side of the panel in just his second term and became ranking minority member on the highway and transit subcommittee, opposite subcommittee chairman Jim Howard (D-NJ).

Howard and Shuster would serve as a team and negotiate the 1976 and 1978 surface transportation bills. Shuster also chaired the blue-ribbon National Transportation Policy Study Commission created by the 1976 law (see the panel’s executive summary here, final report here).

In Congress, Shuster first tried to emulate his role model Jerry Ford and rise within the ranks of party leadership. In 1978, he ran for chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee and won. Two years later, the retirement of Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-AZ) set off a round of musical chairs. Bob Michel (R-IL) moved up from Minority Whip to replace Rhodes as leader, and the Whip spot was open. Shuster ran against Trent Lott (R-MS) and lost a close secret ballot, 96 to 90.

(Shuster’s place chairing the Policy Committee was then taken by Dick Cheney (R-WY), putting him on the leadership ladder.)

After losing the Whip race, Shuster abandoned party leadership aspirations and concentrated on his committee work, helping Jim Howard and Shuster’s home-state GOP leader, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, more than double the gasoline tax in 1982 to pay for significantly increased highway and transit spending. Shuster was also instrumental in helping override President Reagan’s veto of the 1987 surface transportation bill, which was the first transportation authorization bill to feature significant earmarking. (One of the largest earmarks in that law was a bypass from Altoona to Tyrone which eventually formed the basis of Interstate 99, the Bud Shuster Highway.)

Shuster then worked with his new subcommittee chairman (Norm Mineta (D-CA), who once called Shuster “probably the most knowledgeable person in the House of Representatives when it comes to surface transportation law”) to pass the landmark 1991 ISTEA law, establishing the post-Interstate highway program. Shuster also helped Mineta defeat Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Bob Carr (D-MI) in a bitter fight over which committee got to control earmarks in summer 1993.

When the GOP captured Congress in the 1994 elections, incoming Public Works chairman Shuster, with the backing of longtime committee member and incoming Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), was able to take jurisdiction over railroads from the Energy and Commerce Committee and took the Coast Guard and maritime transportation away from the defunct Merchant Marine Committee and used that as an excuse to increase the size of the renamed Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to 75 members (the largest panel in the history of Congress).

Using the committee as the core of a voting bloc, Shuster then continued the work he and Mineta and others had started earlier in the 1990s trying take the transportation trust funds off-budget so the committee could spend down the balances. The House passed Shuster’s bill (H.R. 842, 104th Congress) by a bipartisan vote of 284 to 143 on April 17, 1996, over the combined objections of the White House, the Appropriations Committee, and the Budget Committee.

The Senate was certain to kill that bill, but Shuster and company came back the following year with an amendment to the budget resolution to increase highway funding enough to spend down the excess Highway Trust Fund balance. Despite heated opposition from Gingrich and the rest of the majority leadership (as well as the White House and the Budget Committee and the Appropriations Committee), and strong-arm tactics that pushed the vote into the wee hours of the morning, and despite the fact that the amendment would have blown up the recent bipartisan balanced budget agreement, the Shuster-Oberstar amendment only failed by two votes (214 to 216).

The strength of that vote allowed Shuster to largely get his way the following year when the TEA21 law created new rules for minimum levels of highway spending. (And the bill also had a then-record level of earmarking, to be far surpassed by the 2005 law.)

After six full years as chairman, GOP term limits forced Shuster to give up his gavel in January 2001, and he resigned from Congress shortly thereafter. If he had stayed in Congress a few more years, we would have seen how serious he was about the statement he made when he brought the TEA21 conference report to the House floor in May 1998, when he said (of the new highway budget guarantees): “Should there be more revenue going into the trust fund, that money will be available to be spent. Should there be less revenue going into the trust fund, then we will have to reduce the expenditures.”

(Two years after Shuster resigned from Congress, there was in fact less revenue than predicted going into the Trust Fund, but Congress did not reduce spending, and instead chose to spend the Trust Fund into bankruptcy by September 2008, resulting in $144 billion of general fund bailouts to date.)

During his tenure as chairman, Shuster also oversaw the 1996 and 2000 aviation bills, the 1997 Amtrak reform bill, the 1999 law creating FMCSA, and several water resources laws.

He also served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, at one point rising to the post of ranking minority member, which meant that he was one of the eight Members of Congress who was “read in” by the CIA on major covert actions and programs during that time.

Shuster is survived by five children, including son Bill Shuster (R-PA) who succeeded his father in Congress and also went on to chair the T&I Committee (2013-2018), numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and by his second wife Darlene Johnston. His first wife, Patty Rommel, predeceased him in 2016.

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