By Keith Laing - 07/09/14 12:12 PM EDT
A pair of influential Senate Democrats is opposing a plan from Republicans in the House to push a fight over transportation and infrastructure funding into the next Congress.
Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) said the GOP proposal would prevent lawmakers from attempting to win approval for a long-term transportation funding bill after the midterm elections, which has been the hope of infrastructure advocates.
“The House’s plan to kick the can down the road and pass a temporary patch for the Highway Trust Fund until next May derails the effort to pass a long-term transportation bill this year,” Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.
Republican leaders in the House said Tuesday that their plan would extend current transportation funding levels until May 2015 in an effort to avoid a potential increase to the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax during a lame-duck session after the November elections.
“Any effort that just goes to the end of this year will only lead to another backroom deal during the lame-duck session where only a very few members are present or have any say in the matter,” House Ways and Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said after his $10.5 billion proposal was released.
“I’ve been in that room enough, and it is time for the committees and the entire House and Senate to have the full influence they deserve,” Camp continued. “What troubles me most about a Dec. 31, 2014 date are those using it as a ploy to stick the American people with a massive increase in the gas tax — just about the worst tax increase Congress could hit hardworking Americans with. So, I am seeking the reasonable middle ground of the end of May 2015.”
Lawmakers are debating infrastructures funding with more urgency as money in the Highway Trust Fund dwindles. The Department of Transportation has warned that the fund will run out of money in August unless Congress approves a cash infusion.
Transportation advocates have pushed for lawmakers to increase the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993 to pay for a long-term highway bill.
The gas tax has long been the traditional source for funding for transportation projects. But the tax has been stagnant for two decades and has struggled to keep pace with infrastructure expenses as cars have become more fuel efficient.
The proposal to raise the tax has stalled with lawmakers reluctant to increase the amount drivers pay in the middle of an election year. The White House has also said that President Obama is opposed to a gas tax hike.
Camp said his eight-month proposal, which relies on revenue from pension changes and custom fees, is “the only package with a proven history of getting big bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate.”
Carper said Wednesday that “the House Republicans’ proposal to put off a long-term fix to the Highway Trust Fund crisis until next spring is a flawed strategy that will further undermine the ability of states and cities to invest in transformative, large-scale transportation projects, hinder private sector job creation, and will likely continue a harmful cycle of short-term extensions indefinitely.
“We know all that we need to know about the options for fixing the Highway Trust Fund and fulfilling our promise to states to be a partner in infrastructure investment,” Carper said. “We’ve already been contemplating this problem for more than five years. Giving Congress another year will not reveal any new solutions, it’s only stalling and dodging the hard decisions that voters sent us to Congress to make.”
Carper said Republicans in the Senate have been working on a shorter patch that would carry transportation funding until the end of the year and be more viable politically.
“In the Finance Committee, Chairman [Ron] Wyden [D-Ore.] and Ranking Member [Orrin] Hatch [R-Utah] have been working hard on a bipartisan approach to fund our transportation system through the immediate need in this summer construction season and I urge them to finish that process to set the table for a meaningful long-term funding solution later this fall,” Carper said. “The time to act is in 2014 and any proposal that fails to do that should be a nonstarter.”