While I’m on the subject of Republicans failing to fund highway infrastructure, let’s not forget those Republicans in Congress. Federal transportation funding is about to expire at the end of this month, and these geniuses (sic) do not have a plan. Clock ticks down on highway funding:
There’s little doubt among lawmakers that some sort of highway funding extension will materialize before the May 31 deadline, be it through July, September or the end of the year.
Lawmakers have brushed up against deadlines for highway funding repeatedly, most recently last summer. Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax, the Highway Trust Fund’s primary revenue source, in more than two decades. That’s left a roughly $16 billion hole in the fund, with the tax only covering about $34 billion of the $50 billion the federal government spends on roads in a given year.
While some lawmakers have floated a gas tax hike, senior Republicans have ruled it out. Business and labor groups both grumble that Washington’s inability to craft a long-term highway bill has made it difficult for state and local governments to plan construction projects.
Reid pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week to put a major trade bill, a priority for the GOP and the White House, to the side so lawmakers could concentrate on highways and intelligence legislation.
The Nevada Democrat has suggested Congress could pass a fully funded long-term highway bill by the end of the month. But lawmakers in both parties say that seems like a stretch, leaving them to debate just how many months a short-term patch should last.
* * *
Democrats are taking part in the negotiations over highway funding, but senior Democrats have also made clear that Republicans, now that they’re in full control on Capitol Hill, have to take more of the responsibility for shoring up highway funding. The Democrats indicate they’re unimpressed with what the GOP is proposing so far.
“This notion of two months, three months; let’s get back to it later; maybe it’ll be part of tax reform; we’ll see you later — I’m finished with it,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who said he might oppose a short-term patch.
McConnell and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Durbin added, need “to man up and lead.”
Hatch and Ryan have maintained that a longer patch will give them the time they need to hash out the funding for a six-year bill, and other lawmakers have said it makes sense to throw highway funding into the mix with the string of other year-end issues Congress will likely tackle in December.
But not all senior Republicans feel that way. In fact, divisions over how long a short-term patch should last don’t break along party lines, with the disagreement more over what deadline lawmakers believe offers the best opportunity to strike a deal that would last as long as six years.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has pitched an extension of only a couple of months, which would essentially coordinate the deadlines for highway policy and funding.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has said in recent weeks that the trust fund could make it into at least July, as long as highway policy is reauthorized by the end of the month.
Business groups and labor officials have joined Inhofe in insisting that a seven-month extension is too long and that lawmakers would face more urgency to act with a deadline around July.
“Years of congressional inaction on a long-term surface transportation bill has harmed our economy,” Ed Wytkind, the president of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, said in a statement. Wytkind said Congress needs to “get to work on a robust long-term bill that expands investments and job creation, and is paid for with a sustainable revenue stream.”
Inhofe has added that he and Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif), the top Democrat on the public works panel, are close to an agreement on an up-to-six-year highway plan.
Foxx has said the Obama administration would accept a “purposeful” temporary extension, if lawmakers are serious about using the extra time to craft a broader infrastructure package.
President Obama has floated the idea of using revenue from a broader overhaul of the business tax code to help fund infrastructure projects.
[The White House sent a six-year, $478 billion highway bill to the Hill at the end of March, to be paid for with repatriation taxes, collecting money U.S.-based companies hold overseas.]
The revenue specifically would come from corporate profits currently being held overseas, which would be hit with a mandatory 14 percent tax rate.
Ryan has said he’s willing to work with the Obama administration on that sort of plan, but top officials on both sides acknowledge there are plenty of obstacles in the way.
Anthony Fox, the Department of Transportation chief says: ‘We ought to be embarrassed as a country’:
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Friday said, “we ought to be embarrassed as a country” about the state of the nation’s infrastructure, as lawmakers scramble to beat a May 31 deadline for extending federal transportation funds.
Lawmakers have talked about passing a $10 billion patch to extend transportation funding until the end of the year, but Foxx said temporary extensions are not sufficient enough to address the nation’s infrastructure needs.
“We ought to be embarrassed as a country,” he said after an appearance at a Washington, D.C., Metrorail subway station in Northern Virginia.
“We just ought to be embarrassed that we have potholes in this country that aren’t filled; we have bridges that are crumbling; we have roads that need to be done; we have transit systems that are in a state of disrepair and others that we could be expanding; and we’re twisting in the wind,” Foxx continued.
He has pushed Congress to approve a six-year, $478 billion transportation funding measure, but lawmakers have balked at the proposal’s funding mechanism.
The Obama administration relies largely on taxing corporate profits made overseas at a 14 percent rate to generate revenue for road projects, but Republican leaders in Congress have said the plan, known as “repatriation,” should be offered as a voluntary “tax holiday” at a lower rate, and should be addressed in a broader tax reform package that has gone nowhere on Capitol Hill.
Foxx said Friday lawmakers should approve a temporary patch that lasts only until the end of the summer, which is when he said the Transportation Department’s Highway Trust Fund will run out of money.
“I think, in general, that an extension prolongs the pain,” he said of the proposal, floated by GOP leaders, to extend transportation funding until the end of the year.
“My view of it is, the music needs to stop, and it needs to stop as soon as possible,” Foxx continued. “Congress can extend themselves into July without having to find additional revenue to do it. It seems to me to be a bit of a wasted exercise to spend a lot of energy trying to come up with enough to get us through December, when you could apply the same work to get us a six-year bill.”
A group of Senate Democrats slammed Republicans on Thursday for considering a temporary patch of federal transportation funding that is scheduled to expire May 31.
Republicans in the House have raised the possibility of passing an $11 billion stopgap that would extend funding until the end of the year, but Democrats in the Senate said GOP leaders should be working on long-term extension.
“Where’s the Republican plan? What are they going to do?” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked during a press conference at the Capitol.
“Ten months ago, they told us we needed to this 10-month patch so that they could figure out what to do for a long-term [bill],” he continued. “They said they would come in with a plan. Where’s their plan?”
Cardin said a transportation funding patch that lasts until the end of year would be ineffective because it would expire just as the 2016 presidential primaries are ramping up.
* * *
The transportation funding deadline has been a source of consternation in Washington for most of the year.
Lawmakers in both parties have expressed a desire to prevent an interruption in the federal government’s road and transit spending, but they have been struggling to come up with a way to pay for an extension.
The traditional source of transportation funding has been revenue collected by the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and its buying power has been sapped by improvements in car fuel efficiency in recent years.
The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in $34 billion.
Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the $16 billion gap, but transportation advocates have complained the temporary patches are making it too difficult for state and local governments to plan long-term construction projects.
Transportation advocates have suggested raising the tax or at least indexing it to inflation would be the easiest way to close the infrastructure funding shortfall, but Republicans have said asking drivers to pay more at the pump is a nonstarter for them.
Democrats in the Senate said Thursday that Republicans should offer a plan to pay for a long-term transportation extension if they do not want to raise gas taxes, though they have not coalesced around a funding source either.
“We have ideas, but it takes two to tango,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “Our Republican colleagues are the majority. We think they should be putting forward a plan. … We’re giving them broad outlines. We’re telling them it shouldn’t be flat funding. We’re telling them it shouldn’t be a patch. But we need to hear what they’re going to say.”
Schumer backed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) threat to block consideration of fast-track trade legislation until the Senate first passes bills addressing infrastructure and surveillance programs.
Reid has said the Republican-led Senate should be considering legislation to renew the federal government’s infrastructure spending and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) before they take up the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership because the former issues are facing firm deadlines.
The Department of Transportation has said it will have to begin cutting back on payments to state governments for construction projects that are already underway in late July or early August if Congress does not reach a deal to extend infrastructure funding.