Well, no. But give Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., credit for trying. They unveiled legislation last week proposing the easiest solution to reinvesting in the dwindling highway trust fund—raising the gas tax by 6 cents per gallon in each of the next two years and then indexing the federal tax to inflation in the subsequent years.
Corker, in particular, shows some serious moxie in getting behind such a proposal. Republicans are famously allergic to anything that smacks of a tax increase, and also are politically shy about collaborating with Democrats on tax-related issues. But let's not start cheering too hard yet. All Corker is doing is proposing what Republican-leaning business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are championing and ignoring agitator groups like the Club for Growth, who hate any type of tax. Corker made a decision to side with the businesses, not generally a surprising or bold Republican move.
GOP politics aside, the conversation about how to shore up the highway trust fund before it dries up in August is becoming increasingly ridiculous. The money has to come from somewhere. The potholes aren't going to repair themselves. Yet lawmakers seem to think there is a magic solution lurking under a stone that has yet to be uncovered. Even Corker and Murphy's bill would offset the gas tax increase with undefined tax cuts elsewhere, which prompted Forbes contributor Howard Gleckman to observe: "Congress has slipped into some alternative universe where it thinks it can pay actual bills with nothing more than financial legerdemain."
But if lawmakers continually propose the most obvious answers, at some point one of them will win out, right? That's my theory, anyway. Speaking of such plans, the House Republicans' idea to pay for a short-term extension with cuts to Saturday postal service delivery is dead for now. There aren't enough votes to pass it, a typical House problem. But I would bet money that idea is going to surface again at some future point.
If lawmakers stall long enough, the situation could descend into a genuine emergency, at which point Congress has no problem passing legislation that isn't revenue-neutral. But we are a long way off from that.
While we're at it, let's give a high five to Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., for hanging in there on his proposal to give offshore tax breaks to companies who invest in roads and bridges. He doesn't have a primary challenger, but he's running ads anyway to shore up public support for the proposal. Delaney's answer is more complicated than a gas tax hike, which makes its chances of becoming law this year almost nil. But in a world where the problem doesn't go away and the easy answers start getting knocked off, if he keeps at it, it could eventually happen.
For our insiders: Given that a gas tax hike has been considered a nonstarter in both political parties, does the Corker/Murphy proposal change anything? How significant is Corker's sponsorship? What does the opposition from small-government groups like Club for Growth signify? Do those tea party-inspired groups matter more than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce? Put on your best dystopian imagination and answer this question: How will it end?
(Note: This is a moderated blog on transportation issues. Comments are approved on a case-by-case basis. Contact me if you want to be a regular commenter.)
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