Cantor: Critics of House transportation plan spread ‘misinformation’

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Friday accused critics of spreading “misinformation,” as he defended a controversial GOP plan to use cuts at the Postal Service to pay for a transportation bill.

Republican leaders in the House last week announced plans to use about $15 billion they said could be saved from ending Saturday letter deliveries by the Post Office to pay for at least one year’s worth of transportation projects.  

Advocates for both the Postal Service and increased transportation funding have objected to the plan because they argue that the two separate funding issues should not be combined. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Cantor in a memo Friday, though, said House Republican leaders “firmly believe that this is the best way to ensure continued funding of highway projects in a fiscally responsible manner that implements a needed structural reform to a growing federal liability.

“As you may be aware, as a result of lower than anticipated revenues into the Highway Trust Fund, the Trust Fund will require an additional transfer of funds prior to the August District Work Period,” he wrote to members of the House Republican Conference. 

“Failing to provide additional funds would mean a disruption of ongoing construction projects — right in the midst of the construction season,” Cantor continued.

“Unfortunately, there has been a great deal of misinformation circulated about this proposal,” he said. “I look forward to discussing this with you and clarifying any outstanding questions you may have.” 

Transportation and postal advocates have accused House Republicans of taking a shortsighted approach that will not fix the larger problems at either the Post Office or in federal transportation funding.

The primary author of the Senate's transportation legislation, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), called the House plan "unworkable." 

The traditional source for transportation projects has been the federal gas tax, which is currently priced at 18.4 cents per gallon. The gas tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and currently brings in about $16 billion less than the current level of transportation spending approved by lawmakers in 2012. 

The 2012 transportation bill includes approximately $50 billion per year in spending for road and transit projects. The gas tax is expected to bring only $34 billion per year over the next few years, leaving a large shortfall that has to be plugged.  

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has projected that lawmakers will have to find an extra $100 billion in addition to the expected gas tax revenue to pay for a six-year transportation bill, which is the length of time that is being sought now by the Senate.

Transportation supporters have pushed Congress to nearly double the gas tax to approximately 33 cents-per-gallon, which they say is about the level it would be now if it was indexed to inflation 20 years ago. Lawmakers have been loath to increase the tax on drivers in the middle of an election year, however. 

The Postal Service has experienced its own financial trouble in recent years, but lawmakers have been unable to agree on whether a fix should involve scaling back delivery standards.

Advocates for postal workers have pointed out that eliminating Saturday deliveries altogether could cause the Postal Service to lose business to companies like UPS and FedEx, given the rise in online shopping. 

Cantor noted in his memo Friday that the plan to roll back Saturday letter deliveries has received bipartisan support in the past. 

“Under current House Rules and under recent practice, a transfer of general funds into the Highway Trust Fund must be offset,” he wrote. 

“Given the limited window for action, we believe it is important that an offset be simple and have the support of the Administration and Congressional Republicans,” Cantor continued. “The move to eliminate the mandate for full six day postal delivery has been requested by the Obama Administration, the Postal Service, and has been included in the postal reform bill reported by Chairman [Darrell] Issa [R-Calif.] and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.” 

The current transportation bill is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30.