House Republicans have killed a proposal to increase the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax, blocking a vote on a controversial highway bill amendment that would have raised it by 15 cents.
The Republican-led House Rules Committee on Tuesday night prevented the proposal from proceeding to a vote on the House floor during debate on Wednesday over a massive $325 billion highway bill that is being considered by the chamber.
Democrats complained that the GOP's move to avoid a vote on the tax, which directly funds transportation projects, flies in the face of new Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE's (R-Wis.) promise for more open legislative debates.
"The biggest and most glaring omission by the Rules Committee is not allowing any attempt by this House to fund the bill. I mean that's pretty extraordinary," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who is the top ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
"Why can't we have a simple vote on revenues?" DeFazio continued.
Republican floor managers of the House highway bill countered that the chamber is powering through 81 amendments in an attempt to pass a highway bill that lasts longer than two years for the first time since 2005.
"By any measure, this is the best transportation process and the best transportation rule that this body has seen in a decade," Rep. Rob WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallDraft Georgia congressional lines target McBath, shore up Bourdeaux The tale of the last bipartisan unicorns McCarthy guarantees GOP will take back House in 2022 MORE (R-Ga.) said.
Lawmakers are expected to debate amendments to the highway bill, titled the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, into the late evening on Wednesday in the hopes of clearing the way for a potential final vote on Thursday.
The measure reauthorizes the collection of the gas tax at the current 18.4 cents-per-gallon rate for another six years and calls for spending $261 billion on highways, $55 billion on transit and approximately $9 billion on safety programs over that time — but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years.
Democrats in the House say their proposal to increase the gas tax for the first time in more than 20 years would close the transportation funding gap for good.
"Even if we funded this bill for six years, at the end of six years our infrastructure would be more deteriorated than it is today," DeFazio said. "It's deteriorating more quickly than we're investing. That's a problem.
"We need to increase the investment," the Oregon Democrat continued. "We haven't raised the federal gas tax since 1993. That's a user fee created by President Dwight David Eisenhower and raised again by Ronald Reagan and then finally by Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Is Wall Street serving its own interests by supporting China's? MORE the last time it was increased. A bipartisan idea … fund infrastructure for transportation with a user fee."
Republicans cast the idea of asking drivers to pay more at the pump as a tax increase.
"My folks back home don't believe that if they send a dollar to Washington, they're going to get a dollars' worth of roads back in return," Woodall said, noting that his home state of Georgia has raised its own local gas tax this year.
"Until my colleagues have raised the taxes on their constituents by $1,000 on every man, woman and child … to build roads back home in your district, please don't come and ask my constituents to pay even more," he continued.
"When your state has taken on that same burden of responsibility, come back to me and tell me how much more Georgia needs to put in to help you."