|3:13 PM EDT||
James L. Oberstar, D-MN 8th
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.