7/16/2014US House Passes Short-Term Transportation Bill
Congress moves toward short-term transportation funding, avoiding more policy questions about long-term funding.
The US House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 367 to 55 on a short-term extension of federal highway funding that is set to run out at the end of the month. The Republican-backed measure keeps transportation projects running through May 31, 2015 without tackling any of the controversial policy issues, such as how to deal with tolling and taxing, that have tied up consideration of a multi-year funding plan.
At a speech in McLean, Virginia on Tuesday, President Obama said he would sign the House bill, but he pressured Congress to adopt his "Grow America" initiative that imposes tolls and raises taxes to increase spending on transit projects (view details).
"The good news is there are bipartisan bills in both the House and the Senate that would help with a short-term fix," Obama said. "And I support that. At the very least, Congress should be keeping people on the job who are already there right now. But all this does is set us up for the same crisis a few months from now."
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) rejected the idea that the House is avoiding the policy issues advocated by the White House.
"If the president has a plan for a longer term highway bill, he ought to get the Democrat-controlled Senate to pass it and then we'll take a look at it," Boehner said at his Tuesday press conference. "Until then, giving speeches about a long-term highway bill is frankly just more rhetoric.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan), author of the House measure, says the House and Senate just cannot agree on taxes right now.
"A long-term solution would be my preference, and an important feature of my tax reform discussion draft would provide enough revenue to maintain the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund for eight years," Camp said Tuesday. "In the meantime, I hope all members of Congress can work on a longer-term solution by the end of May next year. This will not be an easy task, so it is important that Congress has time to have a deliberative, open debate about bipartisan solutions rather than trying to hit Americans, who are already paying more for gas, with a gas tax hike."
The conservative Heritage Foundation wants more reform than House Republicans have put on the table. In particular, the organization wants to start by shutting down the $819 million Transportation Alternatives Program that pays for trails, bicycle paths and landscaping instead of maintenance and infrastructure building. Heritage is also calling for an end to the process of sending gas tax dollars from the states to Washington and then back to the states -- with strings attached.
"The states know their transportation priorities better than Washington does," Heritage analyst Emily J. Goff argues in a highway funding issue brief. "Congress should take the cue, start stepping aside in certain areas, and let the states assume more control."