Highway-Fund Rescue Effort Gets Started in Senate

Barbara Boxer’s panel rolls out a bipartisan transportation bill as President Obama hits the Tappan Zee Bridge.

TARRYTOWN, NY - JANUARY 09: The Tappen Zee Bridge is seen on January 9, 2014 in Tarrytown, New York. A recent cold spell, caused by a polar vortex descending from the Arctic, caused large ice floes to form in the Hudson.
National Journal
Billy House
May 13, 2014, 4:55 p.m.

With Pres­id­ent Obama set to vis­it New York’s Tap­pan Zee Bridge on Wed­nes­day to draw at­ten­tion to the na­tion’s press­ing in­fra­struc­ture needs, a Sen­ate pan­el is plan­ning to fi­nal­ize le­gis­la­tion Thursday to au­thor­ize more spend­ing for trans­port­a­tion pro­jects.

But where the fund­ing will come from re­mains a six-year, $100 bil­lion ques­tion still to be ad­dressed.

Fed­er­al pay­ments to states for as many as 6,000 road and trans­it pro­jects could grind to a halt this sum­mer to keep the High­way Trust Fund’s bal­ance above zero, as re­quired by law. There are es­tim­ates that as many as 700,000 jobs would be lost over a year.

“The mo­ment is dire,” Trans­port­a­tion Sec­ret­ary An­thony Foxx said Tues­day at a Bloomberg Gov­ern­ment event in Wash­ing­ton, as re­coun­ted by Bloomberg Busi­nes­s­week. The trust fund, Foxx said, “is quickly run­ning to­ward in­solv­ency.”

While Con­gress in this midterm elec­tion year so far has done little to ad­dress the short­fall and in­ab­il­ity of the high­way fund to keep pace with costs, in re­cent days there has fi­nally been some le­gis­lat­ive move­ment.

The Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee on Monday night un­veiled what it called bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion to au­thor­ize an­oth­er six years of high­way pro­jects. The bill is to be marked up Thursday by Sen. Bar­bara Box­er’s pan­el; it calls for fund­ing im­prove­ments to the na­tion’s fed­er­al-aid high­way pro­grams at cur­rent levels plus in­fla­tion.

The meas­ure would main­tain cur­rent for­mu­las and would in­crease an­nu­ally the amounts each state re­ceives for the fisc­al year. In all, spend­ing on high­way pro­grams would come to $38.44 bil­lion in 2015 and rise to $42.59 bil­lion by 2020.

Amend­ments from some mem­bers are an­ti­cip­ated dur­ing the markup — in­clud­ing per­haps some deal­ing with spe­cif­ic ideas on how to pay for the fund. A blog ap­pear­ing Tues­day on the con­ser­vat­ive site Her­it­age.org cri­ti­cized the Sen­ate bill as re­du­cing flex­ib­il­ity for the states in how they spend gas-tax dol­lars, and said the bill con­tin­ues Con­gress’s “habit of in­creas­ing spend­ing when the money is not there, which is one reas­on why the High­way Trust Fund is nearly de­pleted.”

But le­gis­lat­ive aides note it is form­ally up to an­oth­er pan­el — the Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee — to de­vise those fund­ing mech­an­isms. And the rub is that there is still no con­sensus on how to do that.

In the House, the Trans­port­a­tion and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee hasn’t yet pro­duced a com­pan­ion bill, and Chair­man Bill Shuster does not ex­pect it will do so un­til later this spring or sum­mer. But Re­pub­lic­ans led by Shuster and House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor already have ruled out any move to raise tolls or taxes on gas­ol­ine and dies­el fuel, which no longer provide enough fund­ing.

Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ron Wyden also has ques­tioned the idea of new tolls on ex­ist­ing roads, or such things as char­ging mo­tor­ists based on the miles they drive. He also says tem­por­ary fixes or emer­gency patches are not the an­swer, either, and that it will take up to $100 bil­lion just to keep the trust fund solvent for the next six years.

Even a short-term fix will re­quire $10 bil­lion to keep the fund solvent through the cal­en­dar year, says Wyden, and get­ting through fisc­al 2015 will take an­oth­er $8 bil­lion. One idea that he has floated is a re­sur­rec­tion of the Build Amer­ica Bonds pro­gram that was part of the stim­u­lus strategy in 2009. By the time the pro­gram ended after two years, he said, it had helped fin­ance more than $180 bil­lion worth of pro­jects from one end of Amer­ica to the oth­er.

In his re­marks Tues­day at the Bloomberg event, Foxx noted that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed a four-year, $302 bil­lion pack­age that would raise some of that money by clos­ing some cor­por­ate tax breaks. Con­gres­sion­al re­ac­tion has been luke­warm.

“This is a big prob­lem for the coun­try and we’ve got to deal with it,” Foxx said.

Mean­while, when Obama ap­pears and speaks Wed­nes­day at the Tap­pan Zee Bridge, he will ham­mer home that the fed­er­al fund­ing for road and in­fra­struc­ture could soon be de­pleted — right in the middle of the sum­mer con­struc­tion sea­son.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×