U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on June 18 kicked off a Zoom conference hosted by transportation advocacy groups with his favorite experience with the New York City subway system.
“Growing up in Sheepshead Bay, I was a Yankees fan, but my family didn’t have a lot of money,” he said. “On those special days, my mother would give me a bag lunch, 15 cents for the subway and 35 cents to sit in the bleachers ... It was safe, clean and efficient.”
Taking questions from the participants, Schumer told the virtual event’s sponsors and more than 300 others that Senate Democrats have the ability to hold the line to protect $4 billion in recovery aid for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The funding is part of the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions — or HEROES —Act passed last month by the House of Representatives. Schumer assured worried advocates that he also will hold the MTA accountable to not reduce service or hike fares in return for the money.
He also wants any final Senate bill to include funds for small business and nonprofits and extended unemployment and hazard pay for frontline employees.
“The big boys in the highway lobby always like to take our money away ...” Schumer said. “I went eyeball to eyeball with [Treasury Secretary] Steve Mnuchin and told him if that $4 billion isn’t included, then you’re not getting a bill.”
Schumer said while Democrats cannot force Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring a bill to the floor for a vote — Republicans hold a 53-47 advantage including two independents who caucus with the Democrats — that they do have the ability to block votes on legislation that doesn’t include it.
“I’ve done that with other bills,” Schumer said. The Senate is scheduled to be in recess from July 3 to 17, after which it will consider its own bill.
Schumer said the dollar amount came from the MTA itself.
“The MTA is losing $1 billion a month,” he said. “I asked them what they need. They said $4 billion.” He told agency officials they would get it — and that service cuts or fare hikes will then be considered unacceptable.
Schumer accused President Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao —who is married to McConnell — of sitting on far more than MTA funding. One example he gave is the proposed Gateway rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River, the Moynihan Station railroad project in Manhattan and final approval for congestion pricing on vehicle traffic in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan, which is designed to raise more than $1 billion a year for mass transit.
“Pressure [Chao],” Schumer recommended. “Call her office. Write her office. Making sure she is not Transportation secretary after November is probably the best way to do it.”