Transportation chief: ‘We ought to be embarrassed as a country’

Anne Wernikoff

Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxTransportation Dept. launches aviation test lab with NASA Overnight Regulation: Drones ready to take flight under new rules White House paves the way for commercial drone use MORE on Friday said, “we ought to be embarrassed as a country” about the state of the nation’s infrastructure, as lawmakers scramble to beat a May 31 deadline for extending federal transportation funds. 

Lawmakers have talked about passing a $10 billion patch to extend transportation funding until the end of the year, but Foxx said temporary extensions are not sufficient enough to address the nation’s infrastructure needs. 

“We ought to be embarrassed as a country,” he said after an appearance at a Washington, D.C., Metrorail subway station in Northern Virginia. 

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“We just ought to be embarrassed that we have potholes in this country that aren’t filled; we have bridges that are crumbling; we have roads that need to be done; we have transit systems that are in a state of disrepair and others that we could be expanding; and we’re twisting in the wind,” Foxx continued. 

He has pushed Congress to approve a six-year, $478 billion transportation funding measure, but lawmakers have balked at the proposal’s funding mechanism.

The Obama administration relies largely on taxing corporate profits made overseas at a 14 percent rate to generate revenue for road projects, but Republican leaders in Congress have said the plan, known as “repatriation,” should be offered as a voluntary "tax holiday" at a lower rate, and should be addressed in a broader tax reform package that has gone nowhere on Capitol Hill. 

Foxx said Friday lawmakers should approve a temporary patch that lasts only until the end of the summer, which is when he said the Transportation Department’s Highway Trust Fund will run out of money. 

“I think, in general, that an extension prolongs the pain,” he said of the proposal, floated by GOP leaders, to extend transportation funding until the end of the year.

“My view of it is, the music needs to stop, and it needs to stop as soon as possible,” Foxx continued. “Congress can extend themselves into July without having to find additional revenue to do it. It seems to me to be a bit of a wasted exercise to spend a lot of energy trying to come up with enough to get us through December, when you could apply the same work to get us a six-year bill.”  

Foxx attributed the delay in passing the transportation funding package to disagreements in Congress over a controversial trade deal that has exposed rifts between the Obama administration and congressional Democrats. 

“One of the challenges here is that the same committees that have to figure out the revenue solution for transportation also have the trade issue in front of them,” he said. “Our view as an administration is, you should clear the decks on trade, get it done and focus on transportation bill. That’s doable. Congress can do it. They just need to do it.” 

Foxx said there was still time for lawmakers to address both the trade and transportation funding issues, however. 

“From my vantage point, the pressure should stay on, and Congress should lock itself in a room and figure out how to get this done by the summer,” he said.