Feds tout Obama highway bill as deadline looms

Feds tout Obama highway bill as deadline looms
© Getty Images

Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxGeorgia Power says electricity at Atlanta airport will likely be restored by midnight Ex-Obama transportation chief on Atlanta airport power outage: 'Total and abject failure' To address America's crumbling infrastructure, follow Britain's lead MORE touted endorsements of President Obama's proposal for a $478 billion transportation bill on Wednesday as lawmakers are scrambling to prevent an interruption in the nation's road funding.  

Obama has proposed a measure to spend $478 billion over the next six years on the nation's roads and bridges, but lawmakers have largely ignored the suggestion despite a July 31 deadline for the expiration of the infrastructure funding bill.

Foxx said Wednesday in a blog post on the transportation department website that Congress should take up Obama's proposal to put an end to decade of temporary extensions because industry leaders and state transportation officials are backing the plan.

ADVERTISEMENT
"Congress has a scant 24 days until America's surface transportation law expires and our Highway Trust Fund crosses a dangerously low threshold. Although the current law wasn't really more than the 34th successive extension of previous law at pretty bare funding levels, even that is approaching a dead end," he wrote

"I keep looking at the calendar and wondering what we have to do to get a proposal like GROW through Congress and to President Obama's desk for his signature," Foxx continued, using the abbreviated title of the proposal. "The good news is, I am hardly alone.  Leaders across the country are adding their voices to this important campaign." 

Congress has been grappling since 2005 with a transportation funding shortfall that is estimated to be about $16 billion per year, and lawmakers have not passed a transportation bill that lasts longer than two years in that span. 

The 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax has been the main source of transportation funding for decades, but it has not been increased since 1993, and more fuel-efficient cars have sapped its buying power.

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually. 

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will take about $100 billion, in addition to the gas tax revenue, to pay for a six-year transportation funding bill.

Transportation advocates are pushing for a gas tax increase to pay for a long-term transportation bill, but Republican lawmakers have ruled out a tax hike

The Obama plan would fund the balance through "repatriation," which would tax corporate profits being held overseas at a 14 percent rate.

Republicans have said they are open to the president's repatriation idea, but they have said the taxes should be collected at a lower rate and on a voluntary basis in the form of a "tax holiday" for companies that return profits to domestic banks. 

Foxx cited support for the president's proposal on Wednesday from the Vermont Department of Transportation, the trucking and construction industries and labor unions as evidence of the viability of Obama's plan. 

"It's pretty clear from this sampling of other voices that I'm in good company," he wrote of his support for the repatriation for roads plan. 

"We've got businesses ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work," Foxx continued. "We've got State DOTs ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. We've got construction workers ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.  And everyone at this department is ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work." 

Foxx has said that his department's Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in late July or early August if Congress does not agree on an extension in the next couple of weeks.

Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the transportation funding gap in recent years, resulting in temporary fixes, such as the two-month patch approved by lawmakers in May. 

A $275 billion bill, known as the Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act, has been introduced in the Senate, but lawmakers in the upper chamber have not revealed how they would pay for the measure. The House has been largely silent on the transportation funding deadline aside from GOP leaders such as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ruling out a gas tax hike. 

If lawmakers cannot come up with a way to pay for the long-term transportation bill by the end of July, they will likely have to settle for another short-term patch.