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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Highway Fund's Long-Term Fix Remains Miles Away - Congress Wrestles With 10-Month Patch That Would Punt Issue Into Next Year

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—The nation's governors are incredulous. Road builders are apoplectic. President Barack Obama and members of his administration are puzzled.
 
But passing a large-scale package to finance construction and maintenance of transportation projects has proved increasingly difficult for Congress in recent years, even though it means bringing money to every state. The latest multiyear package passed in 2012 and spanned just two years—coming together only after Congress had fashioned more than 10 patches to temporarily top off the Highway Trust Fund.
 
This year is no different: Congress is headed toward approving a 10-month patch, starting with a vote Tuesday in the House and later this month in the Senate, to shore up the fund, which is expected to be depleted next month. That would punt the issue into next year—and the next Congress—to come up with a long-term funding measure.
 
The pattern of lurching from crisis to crisis on the highway fund has been years in the making. Congress most recently increased taxes on gasoline and diesel—the main sources of revenue for the highway fund—in 1993, but it didn't index the taxes for inflation, which meant revenue hasn't kept up with rising material costs. Declines in the amount that Americans drive and the amount of fuel they consume exacerbate the trend.
 
Again this year, lawmakers are battling over how to fund even a temporary fix, suggesting any long-term solution will be even more difficult to forge. The short-term fix has turned into a battle involving party infighting on both sides, over both the duration of the patch and how to fund it.
 
Some Senate Democrats are furious that their party colleagues are going along with a 10-month patch, arguing that extending funding through May 2015 will simply move the issue into a period when it could get tied up in a battle over the U.S. borrowing limit, which has been suspended until mid-March 2015.
 
The fight over the duration of the fix has yet to fully play out, because some Democrats are planning to try anew to force a multiyear package this year before the elections, where control of the Senate is at stake. Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.) last week said a 10-month patch amounted to a plan to "punt on the responsibility of this Congress to pass and fund a long-term transportation bill until next year."
 
Another struggle involves Republicans upset that the funding mechanism for the patch involves measures unrelated to highway spending.

The rhetoric foreshadows a struggle over the long-term reauthorization, especially as it could involve the question of whether to raise the gasoline tax. Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) last month teamed up with Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) to call for boosting the tax by 12 cents a gallon over the next two years and tying the tax to annual inflation increases. That triggered an immediate backlash, with a fellow Tennessee Republican, Rep. Scott DesJarlais, saying he would oppose any tax increases and that the government needed to do a better job setting priorities.

With its long-term plan getting little traction on Capitol Hill, the White House on Monday backed away from a monthslong insistence on a four-year package funded through an overhaul of business taxes. The shift came as Mr. Obama began a campaign this weekto build support for a multiyear package, using bridges as a backdrop to deliver a message that the country's infrastructure is crumbling and needs money for repairs.

Meanwhile, lawmakers such as Rep. Steve Womack (R., Ark.), whose district is home to a project to widen a three-mile stretch of highway between Rogers and Bentonville, are simmering with frustration.

"I've only been here four years, and it wears me out to think we can only deal with short-term solutions," he said.

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