Congress returns to the Hill today with an opportunity to truly make a difference in our future.
The Highway Trust Fund is the instrument through which the government pays for the repair and replacement our roads and bridges. The fund will run out of money on July 31st.
Actually, the Fund ran out of money back in May. But Congress stepped in and resolved the situation by doing what it usually does. It kicked the can down the road with a temporary two month fix. Unfortunately procrastination does not solve problems it merely postpones them. So Congress finds itself staring at a July 31st deadline with no solution in sight.
The White House wants to go big. President Obama has proposed a $478 billion dollar six year spending plan that would bring the country’s transportation system out of the Stone Age while creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Republicans in Congress, having no interest in adding to this president’s legacy, prefer a more modest approach. They prefer to fund current transportation projects until the end of the year; at which time they will in all likelihood offer another extension until a newly elected Republican president can weigh in. What better way to kick off a new Republican administration than to sign into law in the first hundred days a massive, sorely needed, bi-partisan infrastructure package.
And of course there is the matter of $$$. How do you fund the Highway Trust Fund?
The trust currently gets its money from a fuel tax…a tax that has not been raised since 1993. That funding mechanism has been found wanting in recent years as more fuel efficient cars allow for less spending at the pumps.
One funding option is to increase the fuel tax. The White House prefers to fund the bill by requiring corporations to “repatriate” overseas investments so they can be taxed at higher rates. Republicans want none of the above and as usual offer nothing other than the usual “kick the can” strategy.
Infrastructure is not a sexy topic. It’s not immigration reform, or education, or Medicaid & Medicare. But it is a means by which we can grow our economy, raise our competitive advantage in the world market, create jobs, uplift our society and improve the lives of millions of Americans. That’s no small thing.
After voters handed Republicans control of the congress Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised the American people that the days of partisan gridlock were over. He promised that under his watch the United States Congress would go about the people’s business and govern.
The opportunity is here for McConnell and his colleagues to keep that promise while making a real difference in people’s lives.
It’s time to govern.