May 18, 2015 - Issue: Vol. 161, No. 76 — Daily Edition114th Congress (2015 - 2016) - 1st Session
HIGHWAY BILL; Congressional Record Vol. 161, No. 76
(Senate - May 18, 2015)
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[Pages S2950-S2951] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] HIGHWAY BILL Mr. HATCH. Mr. President, I wish to take just a few minutes today to talk about the ongoing effort to maintain funding for the highway trust fund. As we all know, while the highway trust fund currently has a large enough balance in terms of funding to last another 2 months, contracting authority expires at the end of May. Therefore, unless this Congress acts before we break for the Memorial Day recess, we will start seeing work stoppages on transportation projects around the country. No one wants to see that. There is bipartisan agreement on that basic point. There is similar agreement on the desire for a long-term highway bill. Members of both parties are tired of kicking the can down the road and want to see a real, long-term fix. The problem is that the bipartisan agreement tends to end there. The gold standard for a future, long-term highway bill has been set at 6 years. That is what everyone apparently wants to see happen, though few have offered workable solutions on how to pay for it. According to CBO, a 6-year highway bill would cost a little more than $90 billion. That is not chump change, even by Congress's standards. It takes real work and significant policy changes to raise that kind of money. One party cannot do it alone. It takes cooperation and compromise, something that, unfortunately, has been lacking around here for some time. As the chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over the funding for highways, I am committed to finding a solution that gets us as far into the future as possible before we have to revisit the issue again. Toward that end, I have been working with Chairman Ryan of the House Ways and Means Committee and others on a path forward. Our initial plan was to pull together enough funding to get us through the end of 2015. That would have cost roughly $11 billion--with a ``b''--not an insignificant number, by any means, but very doable under the circumstances. We had roughly $5 billion in agreed-upon tax compliance offsets from the previous highway episode late last year. Chairman Ryan and I thought it seemed reasonable to couple that with an equal amount in spending reductions and reforms, getting us very close to what we would need to get the country through the rest of the year on highways. For a time, it appeared as though at least some of our colleagues on the other side were willing to work with us on this general framework. Unfortunately, that cooperation did not last. In fact, it never really began. [[Page S2951]] Last week, rather than even consider a path forward that includes spending reductions, our Democratic counterparts, at the urging of their leadership here in the Senate, effectively walked away from the negotiating table. As a result, it appears that the only immediate path forward is to extend contracting authority until the end of July, when the funding runs out, setting us up for another deadline and potential cliff in just a few short weeks. Let me be clear, I do not fault Republican leaders in either Chamber for taking this route. It was, given the short timetable, the only option left after Democrats failed to engage in meeting us halfway with a balanced package of compliance revenue and spending reductions. But make no mistake, we are going to be here again in 2 months, facing the same problem, because unless someone has $90 billion just lying around, a long-term highway solution is not going to simply materialize between now and July. Don't get me wrong, fixing it in December was going to be difficult as well, but in the end it will likely take at least that long to find a solution that has a chance of passing through both Chambers. The other side's strategy appears pretty transparent. They clearly have two goals in mind. First, they think that if they make Republicans vote on highway funding over and over again, we can be cajoled into accepting their preferred solution, which is a large tax hike. Second, they think that by maintaining a constant state of chaos and uncertainty, they can make the Republican-led Congress look bad or look ineffectual. That first goal is pretty predictable. After all, a tax hike is their answer to pretty much every question that arises here. I hope I am wrong on the apparent second goal. If I am right, it is just sad. Apparently, after spending years in the majority trying to make sure the Senate never did anything productive, their goals have not changed now that they are in the minority. But things are different now. These days, we are getting things done in the Senate, much to the consternation of some of my friends on the other side of the aisle. Despite this most recent shift on highway funding, I am confident we can work together to find a workable path forward. It just may take a few more votes to get us there. Today, though I am frustrated, I am undeterred. I am committed to finding a long-term solution to our highway problems. I plan to keep working with my colleagues on finding a way to get us there, particularly Chairman Inhofe, whose committee deals with much of the highway policy, as well as those who serve on the Finance and Ways and Means Committees. The highway bill should be a bipartisan effort. It used to be. Hopefully, after we get this latest episode behind us, it will be again. ____________________