Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, I yield myself as much time as I may consume.
Madam Speaker, first let me thank my colleagues, Chairmen RANGEL, OBERSTAR and DEFAZIO, for acting on this important issue.
Madam Speaker, our roads need repair. Our State and local governments are struggling to make ends meet. Our drivers suffer when highway projects are delayed.
This bill is a temporary fix for the estimated $4 billion shortfall in the highway trust fund.
This bill should fully fund the highway trust fund through 2009, but we still need a long-term bipartisan solution. I want to be clear, no money, but no money is spent under this bill. That process is left up to the appropriators. This legislation simply amends the Internal Revenue Code provision only.
Madam Speaker, transportation is the number one issue for many citizens in my district. Commuters sit in traffic for about 60 hours every year. Early this year, Forbes magazine declared the Atlanta metro area as the worst city for commuters in the country; the worst, Madam Speaker. If we fail to act today, our citizens, our States and our economy will suffer. We must act, and we must act today. We must act now.
I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to vote in support of H.R. 6532.
Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. McCRERY. Madam Speaker, I yield myself so much time as I may consume.
Madam Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 6532.
I would say to my good friend, the chairman of the Transportation Committee, that I agree with him that the current financing structure for our transportation needs is inadequate. The bill before us today, though, I think just puts off the day that we will finally come to grips with the inadequacy of that financing structure and deal with it. And we should be dealing with the fundamental problem here and not just putting a patch, a temporary band-aid on it, such as this $8 billion transfer will
So while I'm in agreement with the underlying, I suppose, motive for this bill, I think it is ill-advised because of the precedent that is sets. And it puts off to another day--which is easy for us to do--grappling with the real serious problem of fundamental inadequate funding of our transportation system through the trust fund.
So with that, Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, may I ask unanimous consent to give Members 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks on the bill, H.R. 6532.
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Minnesota, chairman of the Transportation Committee, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I thank the distinguished gentleman from the Committee on Ways and Means, whom we all admire and revere for his civil rights leadership. And we're delighted that he is bringing this legislation to the floor.
I certainly appreciate the fiscal concern expressed by the distinguished [Page: H6834]
gentleman from Louisiana, Madam Speaker. He's right in this sense, that we have a long-term problem in the highway trust fund. And we're going to address that issue next year in the authorization of the Surface Transportation bill that the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will bring through committee and to the House floor in good order, well before the expiration
date of the current law. But meanwhile, there is a short-term problem.
In 1998, when I think everybody I see on the floor who was serving in the House at that time, voted for what we affectionately know as TEA-21, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, to put firewalls around the highway trust fund to ensure that those revenues would be invested in transportation and not held back in reserve to make deficits look smaller, as had been done from the time of President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 to 1998.
As part of the agreement worked out by then chairman of our committee, Bud Shuster, with House Republican leadership, the Speaker, the Appropriations Committee, the Budget Committee, and on our side with the Clinton administration, we agreed to give up $29 billion of surplus in the highway trust fund for long-term debt reduction and short-term deficit reduction, and also to give up interest paid on revenues deposited in the highway trust fund from the collections every 3 months--as is the practice--it
would give that interest up as well. Eight billion dollars was transferred to make the deficit look smaller, and the rest went to long-term debt reduction.
At the time, we had not only a balanced budget, but a budget in surplus. The prospects for the economy were shining. It was a rising economy. There were revenues galloping into the highway trust fund. But the economy has taken a bad turn. It has taken a bad turn on the backs of the cornerstone of the highway trust fund, which is the highway user fee. And for the first time since 1956, the establishment of the highway trust fund and the Interstate Highway Program, we have seen a decline in----
Mr. OBERSTAR. We have seen a decline in vehicle miles traveled. And that has meant a leveling off of revenues into the highway trust fund.
We need this temporary adjustment to prevent a longer term shortfall in the highway trust in which the Association of Highway and State Transportation Officials said could be a $14 billion cut in Federal highway funding in the next year.
Now, we already have 8.2 percent unemployment in the building trades, 785,000 construction workers are out of work today. If you think the housing situation is bad, this will be worse if we have a huge hole in the highway trust fund.
I assure my very sincere and genuine colleague from Louisiana, who has been a very fiscally responsible person, that this is a long-term, fiscally responsible action that we're taking here to close the hole in the highway trust fund, give us a little breathing space until next year, and come back with a longer term solution.
Mr. MICA. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Madam Speaker and my colleagues, let me tell you the situation we're in. The highway trust fund is basically busted; it's busted for several reasons.
First of all, we depend on 18.4 cents of tax to come in on every gallon of gasoline to that fund. People are driving less, so there is less money coming into the fund. The fleet out there of cars and trucks are more efficient; people are buying more efficient hybrids. There are nine million hybrids, which are going further on one gallon and paying literally less; so we have less money coming in. We're also using more alternative fuels.
What's going to happen, folks--and I have many of my conservative colleagues on this side of the aisle coming to me--$8 billion for the highway trust fund, why should I support this? I'm telling you, folks, we have no alternative but to support this right now.
I think Mr. McCrery is correct, that we do have a problem; we need to solve the funding problem. We can't do that today. But what we've got to do today is make certain that this trust fund is sound; otherwise, in States across the country, hundreds of projects in Members' districts, the Department of Transportation Secretaries are going to be telling you we're closing down projects. Madam Speaker, 380,000 jobs could be lost. We could have a shortfall of as much as $14 billion in funding
transportation. We've got to do this now.
Now, the estimate came out last spring that we would be $3 billion short. We're going to get an estimate this week that will show us $5 to $6 billion short. That means the Federal Government is going to tell your States and your Secretaries to start closing down these projects if we don't have the Federal money to back the obligation that we made as a Federal Government to them.
Unfortunately, the bill has come due, and we've got to pay it today. And this is a national crisis. This is a transportation situation. We've all got to work with each other and come up with a solution.
Mr. McCrery is right, in the long term we've got to resolve the funding problem, the basic funding problem. Next September 30, the current legislation and policy we work on expires. I know Mr. Oberstar and I and others will work to come up with a formula that guarantees the solvency of this system.
This is absolutely essential. I wish, as one of the strongest conservatives in the House, to have some other alternative to bring you today, but I do not have that.
I thank the Ways and Means Committee for their cooperation, Mr. Oberstar for his cooperation. We must go forward, meet this obligation, and fund these projects.
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, I'm pleased to yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. DeFazio), chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee.
Mr. DeFAZIO. I thank my good friend and colleague for yielding the time.
Madam Speaker, this is an extraordinarily serious problem. Americans today are already familiar with the problems of our transportation infrastructure. On a daily basis, trucks are detoured because of weight-limited bridges. Individuals are sitting idling in traffic in congestion because of inadequate and obsolete infrastructure. People are flooding on to transit at a record rate. Transit ridership is reaching levels that haven't been seen since we had a decent system of transit in this country
50, 60 years ago.
But the stress on the system is extraordinary. People are trying to escape the high cost of gas. But our transit systems are struggling to pay the bills themselves. So this is not the time to begin to reduce our already pathetic and inadequate investment in our transportation infrastructure in the United States. The gas tax was 18.4 cents a gallon in 1993 and gas was a buck a gallon. Today, the gas tax is 18.3 cents a gallon, and gas was $4.29 in my district last weekend. And that is not the
cause of the run-up in price. And the buying and purchasing power of that small amount of tax is about half of what it was 15 years ago. So this is not the time to begin to think about even less investment. And that is what looms before us if this bill doesn't pass today and isn't signed into law by the President.
Less investment. My colleague, Earl Blumenauer from Oregon, corrected me after his speech. I said, you know, America is falling to a third-world status in terms of its investments in transportation infrastructure. He said, no, actually that was pretty insulting to a lot of third-world countries who are investing more than we are. So I have begun to call us ``fourth world.'' That is a formerly first-world infrastructure falling even behind many countries in the third world in terms of
150,000 bridges in America are either functionally obsolete or structurally deficient. I think we should post every one of those bridges with a sign so people know every time they drive over it. [Page: H6835]
This is not the time to begin to talk about doing less work to maintain our bridges and deal with the structural deficiencies and the functional obsolescence. This is not the time to begin to pull back on meeting our commitments to surface transportation infrastructure.
I'm so pleased that the Ways and Means Committee has chosen to act and replace funds that were raised out of the gas tax, intended to be only spent on transportation infrastructure, but transferred to the general fund and spent on who knows what. This will put us back in compliance with the law and the principles of the United States of America.
As we raise money dedicated to transportation, to be spent on transportation, there is a lot of investment that can be done. This is a needed bill. Pass this bill today.
Mr. FLAKE. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
This Congress, more than anything else, I think is being defined as the ``bailout Congress.'' We're going to be bailing out the housing industry to the tune of billions and billions and billions of dollars later today. And before we get to that, we're going to be bailing out the highway trust fund to the tune of $8 billion.
Let me just remind Members that the TEA-LU, the last highway authorization bill, the bill with the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in it, contains 6,300 earmarks. Many of these earmarks were for museums, bypasses, trollies, parking facilities, landscaping, recreational facilities, highway beautification, street scaping, hiking trails and visitor centers. Billions and billions of dollars went to these items. And yet we are going to be taking $8 billion from the highway trust fund. If you start doing
that, Katy bar the door on projects like these that have run rampant already and will continue to.
Now we have billions of dollars that have been unobligated, that have not yet been obligated. We should take that funding from those earmarks, from many of those 6,300 earmarks that have not been obligated, and apply it to this funding shortfall instead of robbing the general fund. Once we start robbing the general fund for these projects, Katy bar the door. We simply won't stop. This is a bad thing to do. We shouldn't reauthorize this.
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, I'm pleased to yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Oregon, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Blumenauer.
Mr. BLUMENAUER. I appreciate the gentleman's courtesy in permitting me to speak on this critical legislation.
I rise in strong opposition to my friend from Arizona's assessment and in strong support for this legislation adjustment. The United States does have more and better infrastructure than any country in the world. The problem is that much of that infrastructure is fraying. It is being worn out. And it's not equal to the challenges that we have today for our own communities, much less to the international competition that we're facing around the world. We are facing a situation today with a highway
trust fund that is going into deficit and it's going to be more serious over time.
It would be the height of irresponsibility for this Congress to fail to keep pace with the needs of those programs. As my friend, Mr. Oberstar, who knows more about this than anybody in Congress, provided the context for the trust fund, and he could go on at great length about how the general fund, for years, was robbing the highway trust fund, using that to prop up and to disguise the nature of our true deficit.
The fact is that uncertainty today with significant projects around the country in virtually every one of our States is going to have significant consequences in those communities if they're not cleared and move ahead. Many of these have complex funding projects. I was in southern Ohio and Kentucky this weekend where they're looking at a multi-State, multiyear project. If we have a cloud over our ability to keep these commitments, it slows and it confuses. It is going to cost jobs. It is going
to cost economic activity. I think you can make an argument that it actually will end up costing the general fund money over time because of the hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be in limbo.
I hope to continue to work with the Ways and Means Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to have a sustainable path to meet our transportation objectives in the future. Indeed, I hope to introduce legislation this summer for a water trust fund to be able to help some of those other responsibilities.
It is important for us not to back away from our commitment to State and local partners. Time does not permit to talk about the potential byplay where ultimately it's not going to make any difference in terms of the deficit. It's just going to unravel projects and create problems down the line.
Last but not least, the notion that somehow those Member-requested projects, God forbid, for street cars, for hiking paths, for bike trails that are among the most requested, the most popular, the most important, and I would daresay in a time of $4.50 a gallon gasoline and morbidly obese fourth graders, having bike and pedestrian activities not only saves energy, it's good for health. It's good for the economy of this country.
I would strongly urge that each and every Member support this important legislation. And, more important, that they commit themselves to work with the Ways and Means Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to deal with the long-term financial and the long-term vision of how we're going to renew and rebuild America at a time of energy shortage, at a time of water stress and at a time of economic uncertainty. This is a way to make this system work better. I strongly urge its
Mr. SHAYS. Thank you, Mr. Ranking Member, for yielding to me.
I have deep respect for people on both sides of this issue but no one knows this issue better than Mr. Blumenauer in my judgment. We need to rebuild and renew America. We have a huge problem with our water infrastructure, our energy infrastructure and our transportation infrastructure.
I was part of balancing the federal budget in 1997. I was on the Budget Committee for 10 years. And it is a fact. We took $29 billion to help balance the budget. It came from the Highway Trust Fund. We need to be putting that money back. Certainly, $8 billion should go back.
These are American jobs creating a long-term investment. We don't have a capital budget in this country. And so we don't start to think in the ways we need to about investing. Roads and bridges are investments. The Mianus bridge in Connecticut collapsed down and three people died. It was a huge disaster on I-95. We need to not only continue to maintain our highways, roads and bridges, but we need to upgrade them as well. And, in fact, just to maintain what we have, we need to rebuild. We need
this money. It must go back into the trust fund.
And I would just say for those who talk about a stimulus package, there is no better stimulus package than putting American construction workers back to work, rebuilding our infrastructure.
Mrs. BOYDA of Kansas. Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.
Madam Speaker, the American people are so frustrated right now with Congress. And this is one of the things. People ask me does anything surprise me. And I say no, it's about as crazy as I thought it would be on a given day. But a couple of weeks ago, I have to tell you that I was just shocked. This very bill that we're talking about today was brought in the FAA bill. The Parliamentarian said, it's germane. And we said we have a shortfall between now and 2009. Sure we have long-term problems,
but we have this shortfall right now that has to be addressed. We got left with this train wreck, and we're trying to clean it up.
And when the good people in Kansas, and this certainly made the news, learned that because that got taken out of the FAA bill, quite honestly along partisan lines, it not only affected what people thought about our [Page: H6836]
ability to govern, but they wonder what on earth Congress was doing to not take care of this. And they understood ultimately that this was all about politics.
Today, we have brought this back together. Mr. Moran, my colleague from Kansas, and I have worked together and said, we're going to try to bring America together to do this very, very commonsense fix. Everybody knows we're using less and less gas. Hallelujah. And there's less money going into the trust fund. Everybody knows that the price of construction is skyrocketing and we have to do this. Let's get on with it. It's going to affect $120 million of funds right there in Kansas.
But I will tell you what else it does. It affects people's ability to think, can Congress come together and work? I believe that we can.
Mrs. BOYDA of Kansas. We have to do two things. We have to fix this. But today we have an opportunity to show the American people that we will put partisan politics aside and we are going to do the right thing for the American people.
I think we have got a twofer today. I strongly suggest and urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this bill and do the people's work.
Mr. DUNCAN. Madam Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 6532, a bill that will restore funding to the highway trust fund and ensure that the flow of Federal highway funds is not interrupted at the height of the construction season.
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials, if this problem is not fixed, States could lose up to $14 billion in highway funding resulting in approximately 380,000 jobs lost.
At a time when our economy continues to struggle, we simply cannot afford to cut Federal funding for highway projects. Earlier this year when we were debating the economic stimulus package, some said we were simply borrowing money from the Chinese to purchase Chinese products. This bill ensures that we are investing in our own transportation infrastructure, giving income to American workers and improving America in the process.
It is also important to note that we are restoring funds to the highway trust fund that were transferred out of the fund 10 years ago. In other words, this is money that was supposed to be in the highway trust fund in the first place. We are not robbing the general fund, we are simply restoring money that was never supposed to be in the general fund.
In 1998, Congress determined that the balances of the highway trust fund were too high and transferred $8 billion out of the trust fund and into the general fund. This bill returns those gas tax revenues to the highway trust fund to ensure that it does not become insolvent.
Madam Speaker, I always rank in the top 10 or 15 most fiscally conservative Members of Congress, but there are some things that we need to do, and a first class national system of transportation is vital to our national economy. I urge support for this bill.
Mr. KIRK. Madam Speaker, I rise in support of this bill, especially because it helps my constituents fight high gas prices.
It also resolves a political problem in my State. Under Governor Rod Blagojevich, our State is about to lose $4.5 billion in Federal highway funds. After 3 years under this highway fund, Illinois has failed to match any major Federal money. Supporters of total gridlock in Springfield told the reporters ``Don't worry, the Federal fund is broke.'' But it is not broke. This bill fixes that problem, and it does so in a bipartisan way.
Now our attention should focus on our totally incompetent State government that is locked in a Shakespearean war between the Democratic Governor and our Democratic State legislature.
The highway fund is not broke, and this bill fixes the problem. What should now be fixed is our State government. At a 15 percent approval rating for the Governor, the only path is up, and the best way to do that is not to let $4.5 billion in Federal highway money for Illinois lapse.
Mr. MORAN of Kansas. Madam Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 6532. I come from a State located in the middle of the country. Transportation to and from one's home to their work, transportation from the State of Kansas in moving manufactured and agricultural commodities to the rest of the world, we depend upon infrastructure. Our highways are important to us if we are going to continue to compete in a global economy.
In the absence of this legislation, the State of Kansas would receive $120 million less, a shortfall which would mean that there is 90 less State and local projects at an estimated loss of 8,250 jobs.
Kansas receives about $370 million from the Federal highway trust fund. That would be reduced to $247 million. This is an important piece of legislation that continues to drive the Kansas economy and makes us competitive in a global economy. It is time for us to fix the system now in this short-term manner, but it is also important for Congress to reach a conclusion on how we fund highway and other transportation needs into the future.
Mrs. MILLER of Michigan. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I rise in very strong support of this legislation which will ensure that the Federal Government is simply able to meet the commitments that we have already made to both the States and the American people. Specifically, this bill will simply return the $8 billion to the highway trust fund that was taken from it several years ago.
And with rising construction costs and fuel receipts due to Americans driving less, the trust fund is projected to be unable to meet the funding that has been guaranteed to the Departments of Transportation all across our country. These agencies draw up their plans years in advance, and failure by the Federal Government to provide that funding at the very last minute I think is simply irresponsible.
As important as it is to point out why we should pass this legislation, I think we must also be very cognizant of the consequences for failing to act.
In my State of Michigan alone, failure to shore up the trust fund will mean a 34 percent cut in funding, money that the State of Michigan is already counting on. Michigan's Federal highway dollars will be cut actually by $245 million, and would result in a loss of 8,500 jobs, and that is in a State that has the highest unemployment in the Nation already at 8.5 percent.
The impact of this nationally would rival, I think, the impact of the economic downturn that we are already experiencing. Failure to pass this bill would effectively negate any positive impact that came out of the economic stimulus package that this Congress has already passed.
This vote, as well, Madam Speaker, comes at a unique time in history when you have other nations like China and India who understand how important it is for them to invest in their infrastructure. We in the United States cannot afford to be economically disadvantaged as well.
So we have a choice before us. We can vote ``yes'' and make sure that we simply try to keep pace; or we can vote ``no'' and put people out of work, stop construction projects all across the country and put America at a further disadvantage in the global economy.
I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation and vote ``yes.''
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, I would like to inquire of my friend and colleague, Mr. McCrery, does he have any more speakers.
Mr. McCRERY. Madam Speaker, I have already talked here this morning about what I believe would be a bad precedent for budget policy that this bill represents. But even more regrettable, Madam Speaker, is I think this bill today represents another missed opportunity, and that missed opportunity has helped bring us to this point today.
The majority's absolute refusal to address record-high gasoline prices by increasing domestic energy production is something that has contributed to the reason we are here today.
I have argued on this floor many times in the past, not just in the context of the gasoline tax and the highway trust fund, but many times, that the way to bring sanity to our energy policy, and yes, the way to bring gasoline prices down, is to adopt a balanced energy policy for our country.
Think of a balanced energy price as a three-legged stool. The first leg, conservation; the second leg, alternative fuel development and production; and the third leg, just as important as the other two for the stool to stand, would be to increase the supply of traditional fossil fuels by allowing more drilling here in our own country and stop depending on drilling in other countries.
Let's develop our own resources. That would be a balanced policy that I think would contribute to bringing the price of oil down which would bring the price of gasoline down which would get more people on the highways driving more and add revenues to the highway trust fund.
But we have so far not been able to get that passed in this Democratically led Congress. The sooner we do that, the sooner we will have some relief of the strain on the highway trust fund. And we still have to address the long-term inadequacies of the financing structure for the highway system in this country. As I have said, I believe we ought to be doing that today. And I support that.
But, Madam Speaker, today I believe we are merely putting a Band-Aid on the problem. We are contributing to deteriorating, bad budget policy. The precedent of this bill shifting moneys from the general fund to the highway trust fund is a very dangerous one. It is a slippery slope, and we ought not do it.
I urge my colleagues to reject this bill today, give us another chance to go back to the drawing board and come up with a much better solution to this problem and give us a chance to adopt a meaningful, structured energy policy for this country that will bring gasoline prices down and get more people on our highways.
I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.
This is a good bill. This is a necessary bill. In the face of record budgetary shortfalls and high construction costs, State and local governments are struggling to pay for critical highway projects. I fully support H.R. 6532. I urge all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to vote ``yes'' for this bill.