July 15, 2014, 05:06 pm
House passes $10.9B highway funding bill
By Cristina Marcos
The House on Tuesday passed an extension of funding for the Highway Trust Fund through May 2015.
Passed 367-55, the measure prevents the Highway Trust Fund from going bankrupt in August. The Senate has not yet voted on a similar bill.
The proposal would be offset with about $6.4 billion in revenue from pension smoothing, another $3.5 billion from customs user fees and a final $1 billion from an account set up to deal with leaking underground storage tanks.
Transportation funding has long been sourced from revenue collected from the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax. But because the gas tax has not been changed since 1993, it no longer sustains infrastructure expenses.
The federal government’s current transportation funding level is about $50 billion per year, while the gas tax collects about $34 billion annually.
Conservative groups Heritage Action and Club for Growth urged members to oppose the bill and included the votes on their annual scorecards. Both groups are in favor of moving authority over to individual states instead of the federal government and reducing the gas tax.
"No one really believes today’s bill, which is chock-full of gimmicks and revenue raisers, represents good policy. But the specter of a crisis, no matter how overstated, occasionally causes solid conservatives to cast votes based on factors other than the underlying policy," said Dan Holler, Heritage Action spokesman.
Republicans nonetheless overwhelmingly supported the measure. While 181 Republicans voted in favor of it, only 45 were opposed.
Ten Democrats also voted against the bill, although 186 Democrats voted in favor.
President Obama has urged Congress to approve a transportation funding package that would last four years and include $302 billion in road and transit spending. But the White House eventually endorsed the House's temporary measure in a statement of administration policy.
"With surface transportation funding running out and hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk later this summer, the administration supports House passage of H.R. 5021," the White House said in a statement. "This legislation would provide for continuity of funding for the Highway Trust Fund during the height of the summer construction season and keep Americans at work repairing the nation's crumbling roads, bridges, and transit systems."
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the onus was on Senate Democrats and Obama to craft a long-term solution for transportation funding.
"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. "But until then, giving speeches about a long-term highway bill is frankly just more rhetoric."
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who crafted the measure, said Congress should clear the extension without delay.
"Americans across the country deserve to see less gridlock on the road and from their elected representatives," Camp said.
Democrats largely supported the extension, but said Congress should be considering a long-term solution to the Highway Trust Fund instead.
"It gives a temporary, inadequate response to what is a long-term problem," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "It is better than doing nothing. But it is not what we need to do."