GOP chairman pronounces gas tax hike dead

Getty Images

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said Wednesday that Congress does not have the stomach for increasing the federal gas tax to help pay for a new transportation bill.

ADVERTISEMENT
The idea of asking drivers to pay more at the pump than the current 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax has been floated by infrastructure advocates as lawmakers are scrambling to come up with a way to pay for an extension of the transportation funding bill that is currently set to expire in May.   

Shuster said Wednesday that transportation funding proposals like "repatriation," which relies on taxing overseas corporate revenue, are more politically viable, nothing that some form of the plan to rely on the idea have been introduced by both parties. 

"I think pretty much everybody in this town has come to the conclusion that repatriation is where the dollars are," he said during a briefing with reporters at the Capitol. "There is no willing in this Congress or in the administration to do anything with adjusting user fees or taxes."

The apparent consensus have done little to produce a specific of transportation funding legislation, however, leaving infrastructure advocates worried about the possibility of a road and transit shutdown during the height of the summer construction season. 

Shuster said it was typical for tax reform proposals to a take a long time to work their way through Congress. 

"The president wants to do tax reform. The House wants to do tax reform. The Senate wants to tax reform," he said. "They're trying to craft a tax reform bill. That's where the funding will be addressed. Folks who've been around here a long time know anything on taxes takes a long time."  

The Pennsylvania Republican placed part of the blame for the delay on President Obama's proposal to make it mandatory for companies to pay taxes on oversees revenue. 

The president's repatriation proposal, which was included in a $478 billion transportation bill he sent to Congress in February, would require companies to bring back earnings to the United States at a 14 percent tax rate. Administration officials have said the plan could generate an estimated $238 billion in revenue that could be used to supplement dwindling gas tax receipts to pay for infrastructure improvements.

"I think the president is going about it the wrong way," Shuster said. "He's going to tax those profits whether they come back here or not. I think that's going to drive companies to go off-shore and stay ' you know, we're not an American company anymore.' The proposals giving them a reduced rate, allowing them to bring it back in to use those dollars in their companies as well go collect some revenue from it, I think that's the best way to go forward."

With the tax reform reform proposals sputtering, lawmakers have begun talking about the possibility of passing a temporary transportation funding extension, despite the talk from both sides about the preference for a long-term spending measure. 

The current transportation bill, which is a nearly $11 billion measure that was approved last summer, is set to expire on May 31. The Department of Transportation has said that its Highway Trust Fund will run out of money at that time unless Congress intervenes to replenish it. 

Shuster admitted time is running short for lawmakers to craft a multi-year transportation bill, but he said he is "not willing to give up at this point" 

"We still have two months," he said. "I'm going to keep pushing, pushing, pushing until it comes times that we have to do something." 

Shuster conceded that an temporary extension was increasingly likely as the infrastructure funding deadline gets closer, however. 

"Every day that goes by, it gets more and more difficult to hit that deadline," he said. "If wet get the funding solution, I think we can move fairly quickly on a bill." 

"I'm focusing on getting something done before May 31, but if we have do to it, we'll have to address that," Shuster continued. "After the Easter recess is probably when we've got to make a decision."