The Times West Virginian

Headline News

July 16, 2014

House passes highway bill as deadline looms

WASHINGTON — With an August deadline looming, the House voted Tuesday to temporarily patch over a multibillion-dollar pothole in federal highway and transit programs while ducking the issue of how to put them on a sound financial footing for the long term.

The action cobbles together $10.8 billion by using pension tax changes, customs fees and money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for transportation programs nationwide, solvent through May 2015. The vote was 367 to 55. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

Without congressional action, the Transportation Department says that by the first week in August the fund will no longer have enough money to cover promised aid to states, and the government will begin to stretch out payments.

 Congress has kept the highway trust fund teetering on the edge of bankruptcy since 2008 through a series of temporary fixes because lawmakers have been unable to find a politically acceptable long-term funding plan.

The most obvious solution would be to raise the federal 18. 4 cents a gallon gasoline and 24.4 cents a gallon diesel tax, which haven’t been increased in over 20 years. But lawmakers are reluctant to raise taxes in an election year — especially Republicans for whom a vote in favor of any tax increase could trigger a backlash from their party’s base.

As a result, Congress has had to look elsewhere for transportation money while not increasing the federal deficit.

The bill by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., relies on tax changes that are forecast to generate revenue over 10 years, but provide only enough money to keep the highway and transit programs going for another 10 months.

The largest chunk of the money, $6.4 billion, results from allowing employers to defer payments to their employee pension plans.

Funding pension plans normally results in a tax savings for companies, and deferring those payments means they will pay more in taxes and increase federal revenue. But several lawmakers suggested the revenue from the pension changes is illusory.

“Come on, really, it’s pretty phony stuff,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. “Let’s get real about how we’re going to fund our transportation” programs.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, defended the bill while acknowledging its limits. “Listen, these are difficult decisions in difficult times in an election year,” he said. “The long-term problem is still there and needs to be addressed.”

President Barack Obama, touring a transportation research center in Virginia, said he supports the House and Senate bills to keep aid flowing to states, but wants more.

“All this does is set us up for the same crisis a few months from now. So Congress shouldn’t pat itself on the back for averting disaster for a few months,” he said.

Earlier this year, Obama offered a $302 billion plan to increase transportation spending and keep programs going for another four years. The plan, which was paid for by closing business tax loopholes, was received coolly by Republicans.

Democrats and some Republicans complained that it won’t be any easier under the GOP bill to reach a compromise on sustainable, long-term means to pay for programs by pushing off a decision until next year when the presidential campaign is heating up. Republicans, however, may be in a better position to shape a transportation bill to their liking next year if they re-take control of the Senate in this fall’s midterm elections.

Republicans are divided over transportation policy. A significant minority of the party’s more conservative

House members want to slash federal gas and diesel taxes, dramatically scale back transportation aid and leave it to states to come up with the money to pay for roads, bridges, buses and trains.

The conservative Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, which are influential with Tea Party Republicans, urged lawmakers to vote against the Camp bill. But as a sop to conservatives, House GOP leaders allowed an amendment by Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., that says Congress should “increase the authority and responsibility of the states” to fund and manage their transportation systems.

But Democrats said greater federal spending is needed to repair and replace the nation’s aging infrastructure, meet the needs of a growing population and keep pace with other nations like China which are spending a greater share of their economies on transportation than the U.S.

States have been told to expect an average 28 percent reduction in aid if Congress doesn’t act. The fund is expected to reach a zero balance by the end of August.

Some states already have begun to delay or cancel construction projects due to the uncertainty of federal money.

The House defeated along party lines a motion by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., that would reduce the money in the bill to about $8 billion — just enough to pay for highway and transit aid through Dec. 31 — in the hope that another quick deadline would force Congress to come to an agreement on a long-term funding plan this year.

 

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • West Africa Ebola outbreak tops 700 deaths

    The worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 deaths in West Africa as the World Health Organization on Thursday announced dozens of new fatalities.

    July 31, 2014

  • Suing Obama: GOP-led House gives the go-ahead

    A sharply divided House approved a Republican plan Wednesday to launch a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of exceeding the bounds of his constitutional authority. Obama and other Democrats derided the effort as a stunt aimed at tossing political red meat to conservative voters.

    July 31, 2014

  • Obama takes tougher line against casualties in Gaza

    The Obama administration condemned the deadly shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza Wednesday, using tough, yet carefully worded language that reflects growing White House irritation with Israel and the mounting civilian casualties stemming from its ground and air war against Hamas.

    July 31, 2014

  • House approves VA overhaul

    The House overwhelmingly approved a landmark bill Wednesday to help veterans avoid long waits for health care that have plagued the Veterans Affairs Department for years.
    The $16.3 billion measure also would allow the VA to hire thousands of doctors and nurses and rewrite employment rules to make it easier to fire senior executives judged to be negligent or performing poorly.

    July 31, 2014

  • Contract dispute delays ‘Big Bang Theory’ production

    Production on a new season of “The Big Bang Theory” is being delayed because of a contract dispute with its top actors.

    July 30, 2014

  • What’s a group selfie? An usie

    What do you call a group selfie? An usie, of course!

    July 30, 2014

  • Senate changes House bill for highway funds

    The Senate on Tuesday voted to change the funding and timing of a House bill to keep federal highway funds flowing to states in an effort to force Congress to come to grips with chronic funding problems that have plagued transportation programs in recent years.

    July 29, 2014

  • State close to national average in credit card debt

    Credit card debt may have reached its lowest level in a decade, but according to a recent study on personal debt vs. income, just as more people are paying off their credit card debt monthly, nearly the same number of people are being reported for unpaid bills.

    July 29, 2014

  • New VA secretary confirmed by Senate

    The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new Veterans Affairs secretary, with a mission to overhaul an agency beleaguered by long veterans’ waits for health care and VA workers falsifying records to cover up delays.

    July 29, 2014

  • W.Va. man arrested after child found in hot car

    A Wheeling man faces charges that he left his 18-month-old daughter in a hot car while he was asleep on a couch.

    July 29, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads