Ryan schedules hearing on highway funding

Ryan schedules hearing on highway funding
© Greg Nash

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) is wading into a fight over the future of federal transportation funding that has bedeviled lawmakers for a decade. 

Ryan has scheduled a hearing on "Long-term financing of the Highway Trust Fund" for June 17. 

The hearing comes as lawmakers face a July 31 deadline for the expiration of current federal infrastructure funding and are struggling with coming up with a way to pay for an extension. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Ryan said he would "explore the feasibility of various ideas to provide a sustainable long-term solution to the Highway Trust Fund shortfall" during the upcoming hearing.  

"The roads and bridges that keep our economy moving rely on a highly unsustainable financing system," he said in a statement. "Solving this challenge for the long term will require us to think big, and I look forward to exploring new ideas to close the shortfall once and for all."

Lawmakers are grappling with a shortfall in transportation spending that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year, and they have not passed an infrastructure package that lasts longer than two years since 2005.

The current transportation funding legislation, which is set to expire on July 31 after a two-month extension was approved last month, includes about $50 billion in annual spending on road and transit projects.

The traditional source for transportation funding is revenue collected from the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax. But the tax, which has not been increased since 1993, only brings in about $34 billion per year. 

Lawmakers have turned to other parts of the federal budget to fill the gap in recent years, but transportation advocates have complained the resulting temporary patches prevent states from completing long-term construction projects.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion to close the gap long enough to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill, which is the length that is being sought now by the Obama administration and transportation supporters. 

Transportation supporters have pushed for a gas tax increase. They point out the federal gas tax would be about 30 cents per gallon now if it had been indexed to inflation in 1993.

Lawmakers have been reluctant to ask drivers to pay more at the pump, and Ryan and other Republicans have ruled an increase a nonstarter for the GOP. 

Ryan has signaled he would prefer an alternative plan that would tax overseas corporate revenue to pay for a long-term transportation bill. The proposal, known as "repatriation," calls for giving business a reprieve from penalties for avoiding prior taxes if they agree to move money back to the U.S. and pay a 6.5 percent tax rate on it. 

The Obama administration has also embraced the repatriation proposal, but the president has argued tax on overseas profits should be mandatory and collected at a higher rate. 

Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, praised Ryan for scheduling the highway bill hearing, even as they continued to argue that the easiest fix for the depleted infrastructure fund would be increasing the gas tax. 

“For too long, we’ve avoided how to address the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund," said Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerDemocrat: Pelosi ‘ceded the moral high ground’ on sexual harassment Clyburn on disparity in responses to sexual allegations: ‘Who elected them?’ Third House Dem calls for Conyers to resign MORE (D-Ore.), who has introduced a bill to increase the gas tax by 15 cents.  

"We cannot afford to continue with short-sighted policies and 33 short-term extensions," he continued. "This scheduled hearing could be a step forward to finding a sustainable, long-term solution to pay for infrastructure in our nation that’s falling apart as we fall behind," he continued.