A question from Max Silver of Ft. Worth, TX:
Why did Congress choose to pass a temporary highway bill?
Rep. Johnson responds:
As you indicated, last week, the House Transportation Committee reported
out a bill that would extend the funding in the current highway bill for
another six months. I think we would have liked to have moved ahead
with our new long-term transportation plan called BESTEA.
Unfortunately, the Republican House Leadership has been resistant to the
proposal because of concerns about the overall federal budget.
It is true that the BESTEA plan exceeds the amounts prescribed in the
budget over the next three years, and that is a sticky issue. I believe
our need to invest in our nation's infrastructure demands this type of
funding. But, more importantly, as someone who has voted for one budget
plan in my time in Congress and it was a balanced budget plan, I believe
in balancing the books. And I am convinced that this bill will not bust
The Republican majority's own Congressional Budget Office has
conservatively estimated that the federal government will see an
increase in revenues $135 billion larger than what was expected in the
five-year life of the balanced budget bill passed this year. The BESTEA
proposal would only invest 18 percent of that surplus. It also would
not even spend all of the money that will be going into the Highway
Trust Fund from the taxes we all pay at the pump.
So, because the current highway bill was set to expire on September 30,
the Transportation Committee approved a six-month extension of the
present funding -- rather than pass a quick-fix bill that would not
represent good public policy. I believe in the next six months we will
see a boost in support for the BESTEA plan and we will also see the
economic indicators to prove that the plan is viable.
Rep. Granger responds:
Thanks for asking a great question. I am pleased to know that people in my
district are interested in the federal transportation program. In order to
answer the question, it requires some explaining. Traditionally, federal
highway and transit spending authorization bills have been six years in
length to allow for sufficient planning. A multi-year highway and transit
spending authorization bill remains the goal of this Congress, but there
have been concerns about how much it will cost. This has created a short
delay and required passage of a six month extension of the current highway
and transit programs.
As you may know, federal budget rules require that any additional spending
be matched by a corresponding spending cut. The payments from our federal
gas taxes go into transportation trust funds. These taxes are considered
general revenue coming into the federal government. Even though the
transportation trust fund balances can only be used for transportation
purposes, they are treated as revenue to make the deficit appear smaller
than it is. This means that not all of the revenue that comes into the
transportation trust funds each year can be spent out on transportation
needs, creating "unspendable" balances in the trust funds.
Congressional transportation supporters would like to be able to spend out
all of the money that comes into the transportation trust funds each year.
The only way to do this is to create other offsets or other spending
reductions through the budget resolution process next spring. That is why
the House has passed a six month extension of the current program.
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