Mr. SAM JOHNSON of Texas. Madam Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 6532.
Today, just 7 weeks after the House first considered this bill transferring $8 billion from the general fund to the highway trust fund, here we are, back again. I was one of 37 Members to vote against the bill when it was previously considered in the House. The bill simply kicks the can down the road just a little bit more until the highway trust fund is again broke.
Delay and bailout. Delay and bailout. This Congress is elected to run the country, yet we delay action, wring our hands, lament that there are few good options available to address the Nation's problems, then bail out programs gone broke. Our delay only makes the problem worse. Our delay only leaves us with fewer options once we are forced to act.
The bill before us today puts another temporary patch on a highway system that needs funding. Even with this $8 billion infusion of cash, the trust fund is going to go broke again before the next Congress acts to address the underlying problem.
When the House initially passed this bill on July 23, the balance of the trust fund stood at $4.2 billion. Now we learn from the Department of Transportation that in the span of just these few weeks, that balance has fallen all the way to $1.4 billion as of the beginning of this month. So today the administration has called upon the Congress to approve this $8 billion transfer and to make it effective immediately, rather than on September 30th, because the trust fund is likely to go broke sooner.
The highway funding system is based on fuel taxes that are declining at a time when the price of fuel is rising. Fewer people are driving because the cost of gas is skyrocketing.
The majority will not let us debate an energy bill. The majority Democrats will not let America work toward domestic oil and gas. Americans want, need and deserve a clear energy policy that uses American energy sources like oil and gas from offshore. Americans want, need and deserve an energy policy that develops new technologies and brings them to the market. Yet this Congress delays action and prevents debate.
If the highway bills that this Congress has passed were not larded up with thousands of earmarks, then spending from the trust fund could be better regulated to match taxes with spending. A little bit of self-control would solve this problem.
Unfortunately, the bill that will pass the House today shows no self-control. It is just another bailout.
Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. ACKERMAN. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous material on the resolution under consideration.
Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Madam Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Frelinghuysen), [Page: H8030]
ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, because over 700 people from New Jersey lost their lives on this day 7 years ago.
Mr. PASCRELL. Madam Speaker, I rise to speak on an issue on which our Nation is united, an issue that has had an impact on millions of Americans, and that is the issue of restoring the highway trust fund.
I stand today as a proud cosponsor of H.R. 6532, and I wish to thank my distinguished colleagues, Chairman Rangel, Chairman Oberstar, and Ranking Member Mica for bringing it to the floor for our consideration.
H.R. 6532 put $8 billion into the highway account for the highway trust fund. It is critical to address the projected shortfall in the highway trust fund that would endanger nearly 380,000 jobs. The solvency of the trust fund is necessary to preserve highway investment and provide predictable, long-term Federal funding on which highway projects and State transportation budgets depend.
This funding enables States to continue to finance highway projects that improve safety, ensure mobility, accessibility, increase the movement of people and goods, and promote a sound economy. Our Federal-State highway partnership is essential to the success of our Nation's surface transportation system, and those States must be assured the transportation funding pledged to them under Federal law, we hope, that will be available.
Coming from the State of New Jersey, which has the highest per capita population in the Nation and is dealing with an aging infrastructure, I know that this projected shortfall would have been devastating not only for the transportation projects but especially for job creation at this difficult time. In New Jersey alone, we have seen the loss of over $305 million in Federal highway funds, which would have been compounded by the loss of over 10,000 jobs. That is why it is so imperative that we
come together in a bipartisan fashion, to ensure that this shortfall is addressed properly.
I am glad to see that the Bush administration finally acknowledged the crisis with the highway trust fund, despite the President's earlier veto threat.
Looking ahead, we know that families are using less gasoline, hybrid cars are increasing mileage rates, and car pooling is taking more cars off the roads.
Mr. PASCRELL. I thank the gentleman.
Our Nation is facing a difficult economic environment. Commuters are flocking to increased bus and rail options due to fuel costs. We hope that those options are available. Just when we need more investment in highways and transit, the resources and the sources are dwindling.
This administration has consistently ignored the tough issues, such as advancing a real plan for renewal and expansion of the highway trust fund. In [Page: H8040]
the immediate term, I urge all my colleagues on both sides to vote ``yes'' on the Highway Trust Fund Restoration Act.
Mr. MICA. I thank the gentleman for yielding and for his leadership, and I also thank Mr. Johnson for his comments.
When you don't have an energy policy and when you don't have a comprehensive plan to deal with the escalating costs of fuel, you create a crisis. We have created a crisis in the pocketbook and in the checkbook of most Americans. We have also created a crisis here in Congress and in the United States Department of Transportation, because the highway trust fund has gone bust. It is broke. There is no money in it. In fact, tomorrow they will be issuing, if we do not act, notices of termination of
That has consequences. That means not a few jobs will be lost, but there will be 380,000 jobs potentially lost across the country. There will be projects across the United States that are put on hold. So there are consequences to our inaction of adopting a sound energy policy and resolving this issue. And we can solve the energy issue, but we do need a comprehensive approach to do that.
People responded by driving less, so there is less money going into the fund. We have a more efficient fleet of cars on the roads, so we have less money coming also into the fund. And we have alternative fuels that are starting to be used, like plug-in electric and hybrids, that we don't collect the gas tax on. So the trust fund is broke.
Now the House did act responsibly. I partnered with Mr. Oberstar, the Chair of our Transportation Committee, with Mr. Rangel, and Mr. McCrery. We did act, and this House passed on July 23 a fix for what is wrong. Mr. Johnson is right, this is a Band-Aid on a major problem that we have in funding transportation, and we are just kicking the can down further down. But we have got to sit down immediately as a Congress and resolve these funding issues in our highway
trust fund, or we will be back here taking money out of our children's future and out of our general treasury to fund transportation. That is not the way to do it. It's not the right way to go.
We must begin immediately, because the bill we are working under expires next September 30, and we have in place no mechanism to replace and replenish those funds. So this is a Band-Aid, it is a temporary fix. It is not the way I like to do business, but we need to get down to business, solve the energy problem, and have a long-term fix for the highway trust fund that is broken today.
Mrs. BOYDA of Kansas. Madam Speaker, I thank the chairman.
Well, we are here. We are back again. It was about 6 weeks ago that this body passed the very bill that we are talking about today, with the looming shortfall in the highway trust fund. With no Senate action until yesterday, the shortfall is now here and now, and we have to deal with it.
Just last week, our Department of Transportation Secretary, Deb Miller, in Kansas, announced that KDOT would have to cut funds, cut programs and projects while the delay of the payment of funds was slated from the highway trust fund took shape.
Madam Speaker, we can no longer wait to act. The American people are so frustrated right now with Congress, and this is just one more of those things. It is about as crazy as I thought it would be getting here in Congress and watching what Congress can't do, with the opportunity today to do a two-for: We can fix this fund. We can fix this shortfall in the highway trust fund, and we can show the American people that in fact we can come together; in a bipartisan manner, we can work together. With
that, I strongly support this bill.
Mr. FLAKE. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
We didn't have to be here today. We could have acted more responsibly in 2005, when we reauthorized the highway bill. At that time, I heard a number of people, appropriators and others, stand up and say: We are authorizing more than we will have money for. We knew it at the time. Anybody who really looked at this knew that we were authorizing more than the highway trust fund contained for projects.
To make matters worse, and part of the reason we had far more than we could fund is we had over 6,300 earmarks in the highway bill. That is why this thing was so big. That accounted for about $24 billion of the highway bill.
Now, some of those projects, I grant you, would have been funded anyway in the highway bill. There were projects that a Member wanted that would have been funded out of that State's formula anyway. But there are a lot of projects that would not.
We all know about the infamous Bridge to Nowhere. That was part of this bill. But some of the lesser known things that are in this bill that have far too little to do with transportation, I would submit:
$16 million for the Bremerton Pedestrian Transportation Center in Washington State; $3 million for a parking garage in suburban Chicago; $3.5 million for pedestrian walkways and streetscaping in the village of Western Springs, Illinois; $3.5 million to improve the Pennsylvania Executive Mansion exhibit; $1.5 for the American Tobacco Trail in North Carolina; $800,000 for a transportation and heritage museum in Tennessee; $4 million for bike trails and park space in California; $1 million for the
Please Touch Me Museum in Philadelphia; $1 million for the Blue Ridge Mountain Center in Virginia.
These are earmarks that are funded in this bill, part of the reason we are having to steal money from the general fund and fund back the highway trust fund, because we just went hog wild back in 2005.
Just a few examples of some others:
$2.75 million for renovations to the National Packard Museum in Ohio; $2.4 for the National Infantry Museum. Might be a good museum; probably shouldn't be funded out of the highway trust fund.
Yet, instead of going in and saying we are going to rescind these earmarks if they haven't been funded yet, some have, some haven't, we are saying we are going to take from the general fund. When you start doing that, you set a horrible precedent in this place, because we know the amount of logrolling that goes on in a highway bill. And if you don't have the natural ceiling that exists with the highway trust fund, where you say we can spend that much and no more; if you can say, well, when we
run out, we will just go out and take from the general fund, then ``Katie bar the door,'' this place is going to be out of money sooner than you think. Because when you have this amount of money and you pass around the projects and you have so much buy-in, then very few will vote against that bill because their own projects are in it, and soon we are taking more and more money from the general fund.
We cannot start that process with this bill, and that is what this bill is doing. That is what this amendment is doing today. We have got to act more fiscally responsible.
Let me just go through a few more.
$1.2 million for the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan. Now, might be a good museum, probably shouldn't be funded with your highway dollars. $500,000 for the Railroad Museum in Georgia; $200,000 for the Brooklyn Children's Museum.
If you are catching a theme here, there are a lot of museums funded in this bill, again, money that is coming out of the highway trust fund that we overburdened the highway trust fund with that we now have to get money from the general fund for.
One of the previous speakers said that there is a national consensus or that the Nation is united on this topic that we need to take from the general fund. I would say, where the Nation is united is that we have got to stop this earmarking process. And if we get to it next week, hopefully we will, the appropriation bill for the Department of Defense, you will see more of it, because that bill contains 1,200 earmarks. The bill that has been marked up in [Page: H8041]
subcommittee of appropriations for defense, 1,200 earmarks.
I took a look at it just to see. It is very difficult to see where the money is and where it is going, but one thing we could see is what we see in every bill that contains a lot of earmarks: A disproportionate number of the earmarks are going to those who chair committees, those in leadership positions, or those who are on the Appropriations Committee.
In fact, 1,200 earmarks, as I mentioned. Of these 1,200, more than 560 are associated with appropriators and members of leadership. That is a staggering 45 percent of the earmarks included in the committee print. That is not uncommon; that is what called the spoil system, and that is why it is unlikely that we will be able to stop this amendment today.
Please, let's be fiscally responsible.
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, I yield such time as he needs to the gentleman from Minnesota (Congressman Oberstar), the Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, I yield such time as he needs to the gentleman from Minnesota (Congressman Oberstar), the Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
We are very pleased to have the Senate action on the conference report. We can restore to the highway trust fund money that was siphoned off 10 years ago.
The discussion of earmarks we have had a dozen times on the House Floor need not be repeated here; it is irrelevant to the issue at hand. We will deal with those matters next year in a subsequent authorization.
But the reality of why this legislation is needed is rooted in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century in 1998, when in this Chamber our then chairman, Bud Shuster, and I, as ranking member, negotiated with the Republican leadership of the House, the Speaker, the Chair of the Appropriations Committee, the Chair of the Budget Committee, the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, and with the Clinton administration, the President directly with their Office of Management and Budget, and
Treasury, to put firewalls around the highway trust fund to assure that surpluses couldn't be built up as had been done every year since 1968 when it began under Lyndon Johnson, President of the United States, to hold money in reserve and make deficits of that and subsequent Presidencies look less than they actually were.
Until 1998, we had a $29 billion surplus in the highway trust fund, taxes paid at the pump by drivers all across the United States but not getting the benefit from it because those monies were held back to make deficits look smaller. So our resolve was to create firewalls around the trust so that couldn't happen in the future.
In order to reach that goal held by every private sector entity in the country, by State transportation authorities, and by Members on both sides of the aisle, we came to an agreement in which we had to yield that $29 billion surplus. $8 billion of it went for current account deficit reduction, and the other $21 billion went for long-term debt reduction. That happened on June 26, when President Clinton signed the TEA-21 act into law. I am sure everybody in this Chamber felt a great burden of
debt lifted off their shoulders. But none of that money went for highway projects, for bridge projects, or for highway safety or transit needs of this country.
It went for long-term and short-term debt and deficit reduction. We knew then, and it was predicted by the Department of Transportation, by OMB, by the Congressional Budget Office that, in time, this would lead to a shortfall in the highway trust fund, and that shortfall will occur this fall, or with a little bit of luck, next spring.
The fix is necessary today to repatriate to the highway trust fund those revenues that were taken from it for general revenue purpose use for short-term deficit reduction. That was the folly. That was the gun at the head of the bipartisan leadership of the committee and of the Congress, that we had to make that step, take that step of shifting funds out of the highway trust, in addition to which, we had to agree that the Treasury would not have to pay interest on revenues paid into the trust
fund. That resulted in further reduction in revenues in the highway trust fund.
So we are, today, repatriating funds back to the highway trust fund that were taken by force majeure of this governance from the trust fund to general revenue purposes, and bringing it back to keep faith with the drivers of this country. That's what's at stake here, and I want everybody to understand. I'm not stretching the truth. I'm just saying, these are the facts of budget life that we are dealing with. And Congress can keep faith with the traveling public by passing this conference report
and restoring the trust to the highway trust fund.
Mr. HENSARLING. I thank the gentleman and my dear friend from Texas for yielding.
Madam Speaker, the fiscal mismanagement of the Democrats continues. In just 19 months, our friends on the other side of the aisle have managed to double the Federal deficit. They have given us the single largest 1-year increase in the Federal debt, an extra $600 billion. They've given us the largest unfunded obligation ever of the Nation, $57.3 trillion, that's trillion with a T, Madam Speaker, roughly $400,000 of debt per American family under this Democrat leadership. They've given us the largest
Federal budget ever. They've given us the largest tax increase ever. They've given a blank check to Fannie and Freddie drawn on the checking accounts of working men and women all over the Nation.
And today, today, to the best of my knowledge, for the first time in America's history, they are raiding a bankrupt Treasury in order to give money to the highway trust fund.
Now, Madam Speaker, how did we get here? I submit to you it's two reasons.
Our friends on the other side of the aisle love earmarks, but, unfortunately, they don't love American made energy.
In the last highway bill, as my friend, the gentleman from Arizona, pointed out, 6,300 different earmarks, $24 billion worth. We wouldn't be here, Madam Speaker, if it wasn't for this ``earmarkaholism.''
Now, not all these earmarks are bad. But, Madam Speaker, something called the highway trust fund, why do we have Democrat earmarks for landscaping? Why do we have Democrat earmarks for hiking trails in Tennessee? Why do we have Democrat earmarks, a quarter million dollars for boardwalks?
Madam Speaker, why did we end up with $600,000 for horse riding trails in the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia?
Madam Speaker, why did the Democrats bring us earmarks, $8 million for a parking facility in Harlem? And the list goes on and on.
Now, I'll admit, Madam Speaker, there's been a number of earmarks on our side of the aisle. But this side of the aisle woke up. They understand the American people, and the American people want a moratorium, and it's Republicans that have called for a moratorium.
But more importantly, right now, Madam Speaker, one of the reasons there's no money in the trust fund is people can't afford to drive because Democrats view our oil and gas reserves in our Nation as toxic waste sites, and Republicans view them as natural resources to relieve pain at the pump.
And that's why, Madam Speaker, if we would simply enact the American Energy Act, the All-of-the-Above Act, Americans could drive again and we could fill up these coffers, and we wouldn't be here today.
And, finally, to be here today without any offsets is an absolute tragedy for this Nation. And this bill should be rejected.
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Oregon, Congressman Blumenauer, a member of the Ways and Means Committee. [Page: H8042]
Mr. BLUMENAUER. I appreciate the gentleman's courtesy, and I appreciate this coming forward.
It's somewhat ironic to listen to our friends on the other side of the aisle dust off the old canard about earmarks. It's a bit awkward for them, as we're finding out that Governor Palin was not just for them but aggressively lobbying for them before she was against them. And all the earmarks the gentleman talks about were under the Republican watch. They controlled the last transportation bill.
But I am pleased that the administration has had a change of heart. It's withdrawing its veto threat to ensure the fulfillment of the highway trust fund.
This is serious business, and I hope it would be one of the areas where we Republicans and Democrats could come together. Making sure that we don't lose the over $14 billion of highway, bridge and other transportation funding and hundreds of thousands of construction, engineering and design jobs that are at risk right now is absolutely essential.
I'm pleased that Congress is taking this step to make sure that we do not move in the wrong direction because communities, large and small, urban and rural, are suffering from failing infrastructure. I spent last week with my friend, Mike Simpson, in Idaho, dealing with those issues in his State, and it's nothing partisan or ideological about it. It's time for us to come forward and make this initiative.
It's so bad that the American Society of Civil Engineers has given our Nation's infrastructure overall a grade of D minus. Today the Federal Government is investing less than we have as a percent of our Gross Domestic Product than we have for 50 years. And we're falling behind our competitors around the world.
I'm hopeful that we can move forward today with this as a first step towards a comprehensive approach to deal with rebuilding and renewing America dealing with its energy needs, its water, transportation and infrastructure, so that we can make sure that all our communities are livable and our families safer, healthier and more economically secure.
Mr. YOUNG of Alaska. Madam Speaker, first, let me say I'm very supportive of this legislation. And I understand the fiscal responsibility. I understand that those that say we're taking $8 billion and we're not having an offset. Remember we, this body, borrowed the money. And I want to compliment Mr. Oberstar on the history of what occurred in 1998 and where we are today. So we're really paying back what we borrowed. And that's part of the principle about, I call it an obligation, a man's
word, or a woman's word, to someone else.
We borrowed that money from the taxpayers that paid at the pump, and very frankly, we spent it for other purposes, be it put the debt down, et cetera, that's not why we paid that 18.2 cents per gallon. We paid it for an infrastructure system.
Having said that, we have another problem. Our infrastructure is falling apart. When I was chairman of the Transportation Committee, I asked for a five-cent increased tax on gasoline. And very frankly, my side of the aisle and my President said, no, and we're further behind today than we were when I first suggested that. We ended up with $286 billion instead of $216 billion, but not nearly enough.
There's no one in this Nation today that can tell me that our transportation is keeping up. It is falling further behind each day, each day; and when we do that, we add to the debt of this Nation because our economy is based upon the ability to move product and people. If we can't do that, we have no economy.
The thing that hurts me the most, my good friends, in this energy crisis we have today and the high cost of energy, we're spending more money and more gallons of fuel sitting still than moving because we have congestion. That is not the economy this country needs.
I will say this to my new chairman, Mr. Oberstar. He has a huge responsibility, and I hope this Congress will listen. And whoever the next President is, we must address this issue of raising the dollars to improve the transportation system within this Nation.
Mr. Blumenauer said to the effect that no one's talking about transportation in this Presidential election. And I'm not being partisan here. Neither party's talking about transportation. If we do not do that, with the increase of the population we cannot have an economic base.
Lastly, let me suggest one thing. One of the reasons the money is not there and why we should pass this bill today is because we are spending less on gasoline because of the high price. And for those who do not want to drill, those who do not want to reduce domestic prices, think of what you're doing to the transportation system in this country. My chairman is going to have to come up with a way of funding. Maybe it's other than the gas tax. I don't know.
But we do have the automobiles. I don't care whether they're hybrids. I don't care what they are in saving fuels. We do have a transportation necessity in this country, and this body has not had the courage to go forth and have the vision of improving the transportation of the Nation for the future generations. We must do that.
This bill is a short step. It's needed. It's important, and it is returning what we borrowed; we, being the body of Congress, from the taxpayers at the pump. I have come from the old school that if you borrow it you pay it back, and that's what we're doing today to keep the largest driving force in this country going, the construction of our infrastructure, the improvement upon and then the repair. If we don't do that today, I'm sure we will, we'll make a great mistake.
But let's go to the future, the next highway bill. And those that are talking about we shouldn't spend it here, we shouldn't spend it there, there's no better way to spend the dollars of the American taxpayer than in an infrastructure for the future generations. It creates employment today, it creates employment in the future, and it takes and makes our economy strong forever.
Mr. MORAN of Kansas. I thank the gentleman from Texas. And I rise today in support of H.R. 6532.
I come from a State in which transportation matters. Long distances between communities, agricultural and commodity goods to be hauled to market. And in the absence of this restoration of $8 billion to the highway trust fund, our State would lose nearly $118.5 million dollars, creating a critical shortfall and the inability to complete projects underway.
So I'm pleased today to be back here in support of legislation that this body passed several weeks ago; pleased to see the Senate follow suit last night, and pleased to know that the President will sign this legislation upon its passage today.
I commend my colleagues in Ways and Means, and appreciate my colleagues from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who have arisen to the occasion to make certain that transportation is supported and the jobs and industry that it pertains to, by this legislation.
Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. I thank the gentleman.
I rise to oppose this legislation which is really unfair and unjust to the people of the State of New Jersey. I say so because it perpetuates an unfair system to our State, our State made up of commuters, because it does not change a system where in fact we do not get back a dollar on a dollar. Our commuters only get back pennies, 87 cents on a dollar in the current system, and this perpetuates that system.
See, New Jersey is a commuter State. Whether you work or play, you [Page: H8043]
have to rely on your car or truck to get around, and you're being attacked both from our State capital and in Washington, D.C.
You're being attacked by our State capital by perpetual toll increases from High Point to Cape May, from Alpha to LBI, there are always threats of higher taxes there. And in D.C., we're under attack as well for the failure of this Congress and this Democrat leadership of passing an energy package.
With gasoline at $3.50 a gallon and diesel at $4 a gallon, where it costs over $1,000 to fill up your truck to get to work or to get to school or elsewhere, New Jersey commuters are consistently being attacked by a system out of control in our State capital and our national capital as well, and that is why I stand here opposed to this legislation until we change the existing system of funding for tax administration.
Mr. LEWIS of Georgia. Madam Speaker, I fully support H.R. 6532, as amended. We must act and we must act responsibly and return $8 billion to the highway trust fund.
I urge all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to vote ``yes'' for this important and needed bill.