GOP rep.: Highway bill ‘a priority for us’

The chairwoman of the House Republican Conference said Thursday that passing a long-term transportation funding bill will be a “priority” for GOP leaders in the next Congress. 

“As you think about building a healthy economy, we have a long list of important infrastructure needs in this country, and that is a priority,” Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersThe Hill's Whip List: 36 GOP no votes on ObamaCare repeal plan The one Trump pick leaving greens hopeful House, Senate leaders avoid holding town halls MORE (R-Wash.) said during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program. 

“A long-term transportation infrastructure bill,” she continued. “There's already been an outline put together between the House and the Senate that I think is a good foundation for that

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Lawmakers have been grappling for years with a shortfall of about $16 billion per year in federal transportation funding that has developed as receipts have dwindled from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax that has traditionally been used to pay for infrastructure. 

The current transportation funding bill, which is scheduled to expire in May, includes about $50 billion per year. However, the gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993, only brings in about $34 billion annually at its current rate.

Transportation advocates have pushed for an increase in the gas to help close the gap, but lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump to help improve the roads they drive on. 

Lawmakers have turned instead to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the gap in lieu of asking drivers to pay more at the pump, but critics say the temporary bandages are contributing to a weakened national infrastructure. 

McMorris Rodgers said Thursday that a long-term transportation is “long overdue.” 

“Both parties recognize it,” she said. “This is something that we can come together on, which I'm excited about. I think we all recognize that this is one where we should.” 

Congress has not passed a long-term transportation bill since lawmakers approved a four-year measure in 2005. 

That measure, which was supposed to expire in 2009, was extended about ten times before lawmakers cobbled together enough money for two-year, $109 billion bill in 2012. 

Congress had a chance to pass a multi-year transportation funding package earlier this year when the 2012 measure was expiring in September, but lawmakers could not agree on a way to pay for more than a couple of months' worth of projects, resulting in a temporary extension that lasts only until May 2015. 

The nearly $11 billion measure was intended only to prevent a bankruptcy in the Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund, which had been scheduled to run out of money in September without congressional action. 

McMorris Rodgers blamed part of the transportation funding shortfall on the fact the $787 billion stimulus package that was passed by the Obama administration in 2009 did not improve the nation’s infrastructure as much as it had been expected to.  

“I'm not sure the stimulus package was the most effective approach,” she said. “Only a very small percentage of the stimulus package actually went to transportation, infrastructure, which that is going to be a priority.”