Senate Democrats try again for long-term highway funding

HighwayCongress agreed to a short-term extension of highway funding before it expired at the end of May, kicking the can down the road again, so to speak.

It was the 33rd short-term extension in recent years. The New York Times suggested that this will set up an epic battle over infrastructure later this summer.

Until Tea-Publicans agree that we need to raise taxes to pay for long overdue infrastructure improvements — something they are religiously opposed to — their tactic of robbing Peter to pay Paul (revenue neutral budgeting) will simply pit one interest against another, leading to gridlock, and sort-term extensions.

Nevertheless, The Hill reports, Senate Dems give GOP 45-day highway deadline:

Senate Democrats are giving Republicans 45 days to negotiate a long-term highway funding extension.

And while they aren’t ruling out supporting another short-term fix when funding runs out at the end of July, they suggest it will be difficult to get such a measure through the Senate.

“The bottom line is we’re asking them to meet our timetable. If they don’t meet this timetable, it will be very hard for us to do another short-term extension,” Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership, told reporters Tuesday.

“We do not want a 34th short-term extension of this bill — this program,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). “We need Republicans to sit down with us, sit down together — don’t do it on their own. We don’t want to do it on our own. We want to sit down with them and negotiate the solution.”

Senate Democrats seeking to recapture their lost majority have rallied around highway funding as well as larger spending issues expected to dominate Washington in the second half of the year. On Tuesday, they challenged the GOP to put a multiyear highway bill on the floor by mid-July.

They hope their campaign will illustrate to voters that Democrats are more interested than Republicans in negotiating long-term solutions to the nation’s problems.

* * *

Congress passed a two-month extension of highway funding before its Memorial Day recess after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ignored Democratic demands to make highway funding a priority over President Obama’s trade agenda.

Democrats have also called for a budget summit this month to avoid a late-year standoff over spending levels. They warn such as fight could lead to a government shutdown, pointing to the breakdown on the Senate floor at the end of May that caused the National Security Agency’s surveillance authority to expire for a few days.

“It fits into a theme of trying to avoid what we’ve seen happen several times with [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] and highways,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “We want negotiated longer-term solutions and want to start those conversations early.”

A Gallup poll published this week shows that only 8 percent of Americans are confident in Congress, the lowest rank of any major U.S. institution, and it cites partisan gridlock as a reason. Confidence in U.S. Institutions Still Below Historical Norms – Gallup.

Democrats want to pay for a multiyear extension of the Highway Trust Fund with Obama’s proposal to tax overseas corporate profits.

In his budget plan for fiscal 2016, Obama called for a one-time 14 percent tax on approximately $2 trillion in corporate profits sitting abroad. The plan would also impose a 19 percent tax on U.S. companies’ future foreign earnings.

Corporate earnings collected abroad are now taxed at a 35 percent rate, but many companies avoid paying it by keeping their profits overseas.

Allowing companies to repatriate overseas profits with a one-time tax break would generate $238 billion. The rest of the infrastructure program described in Obama’s budget would be paid for by the federal gas tax.

“Our starting point in the negotiations is the president’s proposal,” Schumer said.

“There is a deemed repatriation the first year and continued on overseas income, which pays no taxes now,” he added, noting it is similar to a proposal made by former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).

Senate Democrats sent a letter to their Republican colleagues Tuesday laying out a plan to avoid a shutdown of transportation construction projects.

The letter calls on the four relevant Senate committees to hold legislative hearings by the beginning of next week and complete mark-ups of a long-term transportation bill during the first full week of July.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) dismissed the Democratic plan as an unworkable tax increase.

We’re not going to raise taxes,” he said. “I’m willing to look at everything, but we’re not going to raise taxes.”

Listen up, Senator, the highway fund does not have enough revenue to operate, which by definition means that you must raise taxes to cover expenses, or you will have to borrow the money and run deficit spending. The Democrats have put forward a sensible “pay for” for highway infrastructure — something that all American agree we badly need — but all these ideological Tea-Publicans ever do is squawk “No new taxes! No new taxes!‘ like a mentally deranged parrot.

“What’s their proposal? We’re willing to listen to their proposal. What is it and for how long and how much are they funding highways?” Schumer retorted.

Comments are closed.