Later in the day after the bridge ceremony, Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who's running for re-election against Republican Michael Cummins, a Brook Park real estate broker, talked to a Dispatch reporter about the federal government's rescue of financial institutions, the Iraq war, transportation and the upcoming election.
He voted in favor of the bailout bill after Congress insisted on several safeguards to prevent excessive compensation and bonuses for executives and to encourage accountability. Congress also insisted on provisions calling for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to renegotiate mortgages and interest rates in an effort to keep homeowners in their homes, he said.
There were risks if Congress did nothing, Oberstar said, and there are risks with the rescue plan. At least with the government's intervention there is the hope for the prevention of a collapse of the financial sector and the likelihood but not a certainty that the public's investment will be recouped.
When asked if the government would lose money on its investment in the financial institutions, he responded: "That's a big question mark."
As chair of the House Transportation Committee, Oberstar said he would like to use Highway Trust Fund money to improve roads and bridges, fund highway safety measures and relieve costly traffic congestion in metropolitan areas.
He would like to change the funding mechanism of the trust fund from a strictly cents per gallon basis to a formula that incorporates moving vehicle miles traveled plus the weight of the vehicle. Decisions on what to invest in would come before any requests for an increase in the federal gas tax.
Current House rules call for chairs to be rotated after three terms, but Oberstar predicted that rule would be changed.
He said while Iraq was the dominant issue a year ago the state of the U.S. economy trumps all other issues as the election draws near and that shift seems to favor Sen. Barack Obama.
"People are frightened about their retirement plans," he said. "There's deep anxiety."
Oberstar predicted the Democrats would pick up six to eight seats in the Senate and somewhere between 10 and 15 in the House.
"I'm feeling very comfortable," he said of his own race. "After 34 years people know what I've done."
He said he would be impatient if Obama was elected and he failed to follow his 16-month schedule for troop withdrawal. Oberstar said while circumstances could worsen in Iraq those circumstances all center around a U.S. occupation of Iraq that is resented by the Iraqis.
"It's their country," he said. "Let them take it over."
MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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