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Surface Transportation Savings Act of 2010

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. DUNCAN. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in support of this bill, and I commend the gentleman from Virginia, who just finished making his remarks.

H.R. 5604 rescinds $106.8 million in contract authority from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Transit Administration. This rescission of contract authority will come from the following programs: $81 million from NHTSA's safety belt performance grant program; $8.5 million from NHTSA's administrative expenses, the National Driver Registry, and research and development programs; and $17.4 million from FTA's formula and bus grant programs.

In total, H.R. 5604 rescinds approximately $107 million in contract authority, which is a type of budget authority. However, the Congressional Budget Office has determined that H.R. 5604, while certainly well intentioned and worthy of support, will not have any impact on outlays or direct spending.

According to the CBO, the budget deficit is defined as the amount by which the Federal Government's total outlays exceed its total revenues. Because CBO's official cost estimate for H.R. 5604 finds that this legislation will not reduce the Federal Government's outlays, this bill, unfortunately, will not reduce the budget deficit. This bill could ultimately lead to savings if the Congress does not simply spend this money someplace else.

For the first 9 months of fiscal year 2010, we are running a budget deficit of $1 trillion, and the deficit will reach at least $1.4 trillion by the end of the fiscal year on September 30. These are staggering, incomprehensible sums, and these deficits will only add to our growing Federal debt, which is already at over $13 trillion.

By the end of this year, the Federal debt will represent 62 percent of the Nation's economy, the highest percentage since World War II, according to CBO. This mounting debt will be passed on to our children and grandchildren. I believe, and most people believe, that Congress isn't doing enough to reduce the current budget deficit or our swelling national debt.

While this bill is certainly a step in the right direction, it will not reduce the current budget deficit or the national debt. And so while this is good legislation that I do support, we are going to have to go further if we're going to do what the American people expect and need us to do.

I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. PERRIELLO. I appreciate the support of the gentleman from Tennessee and his concern about the deficit. We certainly need to continue to look at the big picture with pay-as-you-go legislation and budget commissions and other ways to get it to balance. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with taking smaller steps in the right direction, whether that's looking at blocking congressional pay raises or anyplace that we can save. $107 million is nothing to sneeze at, even if it's not large by Washington standards.

Madam Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Schauer).

Mr. SCHAUER. Thank you, Mr. Perriello and Mr. Duncan.

We need common sense in Washington, and unfortunately there is too little of it at this time. That's why I decided to sign on and be a primary cosponsor of this bill, the Surface Transportation Savings Act of 2010. The bill will lead to real savings and real deficit reduction, and we need to fight for that at this very difficult time in our country.

As has been said, the Surface Transportation Savings Act of 2010 reduces the contract authority that is currently available for certain highway safety and transit programs by $107 million. Let me say that again, $107 million. That's real money. While this may not, in and of itself, directly reduce outlays this current fiscal year, it takes $107 million off the table so that it cannot be used to increase spending in the future.

Now, as my colleague, Mr. Perriello, said, there are a couple of ways that this $107 million could be used to increase spending and increase the Federal budget deficit. We know that a future appropriations act could use these dollars and appropriate them and spend them on these current programs within the Department of Transportation. But let's be clear, there is a very real threat. The Congressional Budget Office may not see it, and I can understand why they may not trust the Congress to act responsibly, but twice already this Congress has tried to use these available dollars within other programs.

H.R. 4899, the FY 2010 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill that was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month included $2.2 billion of rescinded highway contract authorities. So these are dollars that were budgeted but were not spent. And again, if we don't act, those kinds of available dollars will be spent.

Now, to make it even more directly relevant to this bill and to the Congressional Budget Office's analysis, H.R. 4899, this Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill, tried to spend $25 million that would be taken off the table by this Surface Transportation Savings Act. So I don't think we could be any more clear than the threat that is before us.

I couldn't agree more that we must address real deficit reduction one step at a time. This is a critical, critical step to do that. And I'll tell you, the people in Michigan's Seventh Congressional District believe $107 million is real money.

By not acting, the threat is real that these available dollars will be spent. By passing this bill today, the United States House of Representatives will remove $107 million that would likely be spent for some other program.

We must act to make sure that we restrain and constrain spending in a way that results in deficit reduction. That's why I'm proud to stand in support of this bill and hope that both my Democratic and Republican colleagues take decisive action to make sure that neither this Congress nor future Congresses spend money that we can't afford.

Mr. DUNCAN. I continue to reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. PERRIELLO. I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Oberstar), the chairman.

Mr. OBERSTAR. I thank the gentleman for yielding and for his leadership on this issue.

The gentleman from Virginia has been very diligent and vigilant on deficit reduction and on careful investment of the public resources, as has the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Schauer), and there is no one who can exceed those qualities other than the gentleman from Tennessee (Mr. Duncan), a gentleman whose entire career has been one of public probity and clarity.

As the gentleman from Michigan said, where he comes from and where I come from in northern Minnesota, where the gentleman from Virginia comes from, $107 million is real money. We could build 100 lane miles of new road at $1 million a mile in my part of the country. But being very clear, this is contract authority that is not going to be used. It's very clear it's not going to be used. The agencies have said they're not going to use it.

But in the curious construct of our budget processes in both the executive branch and the legislative branch, on this side of the Hill and the other side of the Hill, that money can be used in an obscure fashion that it takes a very long time to explain to ordinary citizens. Say, in a passing comment in a Fourth of July parade, you can't plumb the depths of this curious budget process. Sure, there are no outlay savings, but that's why the Appropriations Committee year in and year out, under both Republican and Democratic leadership, have used the rescission process to claim savings on the one hand and spend money on the other hand, real general revenue dollars on the other hand for projects that they consider to be important.

The supplemental appropriation bill earlier this month rescinded $25 million of highway safety contract authority that will be rescinded by the bill before us.

The supplemental appropriation bill rescinds $2.2 billion of Federal-aid highway contract authority so they can use it as something else.

This is real. What we are doing here is saying this is done. These authorities that exist in law that will not be used, for which obligations will not be made, and for which projects will not be advanced is terminated, and the Appropriations Committee then can't use that gimmick for something else they want to do.

So what we do is real in this legislation. It takes $107 million off the table. It makes it unavailable for rescission and unavailable for gimmickry through the appropriation process in either this body or the other body. We take a real positive step, one that is within the authority of this committee. We are not the Budget Committee. We are not Ways and Means. We have jurisdictional issues, and we are identifying other savings of this nature that will be considered on the House floor in the coming week before the August recess.

So I applaud the deficit hawks of our committee on both sides of the aisle for their vigilance and for pursuing this matter.

Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 5604, the ``Surface Transportation Savings Act of 2010''. I commend the work of the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Perriello) and the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Schauer) for introducing this legislation.

This bill rescinds $107 million in excess contract authority that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) cannot use in fiscal year (FY) 2010. In doing so, H.R. 5604 will take these funds off the table so that they cannot be used to increase spending in the future.

The largest rescission contained in this legislation will occur in NHTSA's safety belt performance grants program. This program received $124.5 million in FY 2010 to carry out an incentive grant program to encourage States to enact and enforce laws requiring the use of safety belts. This funding level is equal to the amount authorized for this program in FY 2009 under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) (P.L. 109-59).

According to NHTSA, only three States are expected to qualify to receive an incentive grant under this program this year, requiring no more than $28.5 million in FY 2010 to carry out the authorized activities of the program.

NHTSA does not have the authority to redistribute the unused program funds this fiscal year, and they will remain unallocated in 2010. H.R. 5604 rescinds $81.0 million in unusable contract authority from this program.

The Surface Transportation Savings Act also rescinds $8.5 million in contract authority from NHTSA's administrative expenses, the National Driver Register, and research and development programs.

This excess contract authority was made available under the extension of current surface transportation programs passed as part of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (HIRE Act).

Because the amounts of contract authority provided for these programs under the HIRE Act is greater than the funding levels provided by the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act, NHTSA cannot use these funds this year.

H.R. 5604 also rescinds $17.4 million of contract authority from FTA's formula and bus grant programs. The HIRE Act provides $8.361 billion in FY 2010 to carry out FTA's formula and bus grant programs, $17.4 million more than the funding level provided in the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act. FTA does not have the ability to utilize these funds this year.

Although the $107 million that would be rescinded by H.R. 5604 cannot be used at the present time, there are two ways this $107 million could be used to increase spending in the future if it is not rescinded now. First, a future appropriations act could increase the obligation limitations that control spending for these highway safety and transit programs, thereby allowing this $107 million to be spent. Second, a future appropriations act could rescind this $107 million and use that rescission to offset increased spending on other programs.

There are skeptics who claim that this bill will not reduce spending. They are closing their eyes to the budgetary shell game played out in this body over the past decade. It has become somewhat routine for appropriations bills to rescind surface transportation contract authority in order to offset other spending that no appropriations committee proposes. In fact, H.R. 4899, the ``Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2010'', that passed the House earlier this month, rescinds $25 million of the highway safety contract authority that would be rescinded by the bill before us today. The Supplemental Appropriations bill also rescinds $2.2 billion of Federal-aid highway contract authority.

The Committee on Appropriations includes such rescissions in appropriations bills because they offset other spending that the committee supports. Even if a contract authority rescission is ``scored'' as only reducing budget authority, not outlays, a budget authority offset is often all that is needed to facilitate additional spending in an appropriations bill.

To the extent that this bill takes $107 million off the table and makes that amount unavailable for rescission, or use, by some future appropriations bill, it will indeed result in ``real'' savings.

H.R. 5604 is one step in a continuing effort to find savings within programs under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. While these savings may seem small relative to the size of our budget deficit, it is a start. Even the longest journey begins with a single step.

I want to again thank Mr. Perriello and Mr. Schauer for their hard work on behalf of the American taxpayers in introducing this legislation. This proposal is a common sense step toward improving the Nation's fiscal foundation and ensuring that the nation's Federal surface transportation funds are invested as efficiently as possible.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 5604.

Mr. DUNCAN. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Oberstar), our outstanding chairman of the full committee, for his very accurate explanation of the confusing, convoluted way we go about the budget and contract authority differences in this Congress.

I want to commend the gentlemen from Virginia and from Michigan for bringing this legislation to the floor. It is a good bill.

As I said, even though the CBO may not count it as reducing the deficit by $107 million, it is a step in the right direction, and we should be looking for savings in every Department and agency in this Federal Government, and we are going to have to if we are ever to get the Federal deficit and our national debt under any type of control.

What we first need to be doing, though, is to stop spending hundreds of billions of dollars on very unnecessary foreign wars and turning the Department of Defense into the Department of Foreign Aid with all the nation-building that they are doing. Then we need to go to every Department and agency, and instead of building other countries with money that we don't have, we need to start building our own country. I think no one has been more of a leader in that regard than our chairman, Chairman Oberstar, but we need to start taking care of our own country and start putting the American people first once again.

I do think that this bill is a step in the right direction; so I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation.

Mr. OBERSTAR. Will the gentleman yield to me for just a moment?

Mr. DUNCAN. I will be happy to yield.

Mr. OBERSTAR. I would like to make the observation, Madam Speaker, that the gentleman took the lead in our Public Buildings Subcommittee many years ago, during his first term in Congress, on courthouses. The gentleman has saved the taxpayers of this country tens of millions of dollars, perhaps now in the hundreds of millions, by requiring, through his persistent campaign, courtroom sharing.

Madam Speaker, I'll say to the gentleman from Tennessee that I don't know how CBO scores that, but I know that, in our committee, I score it as a net savings to the public. We have built better courthouses, more courthouses and more efficient service to the public in requiring this very simple step of sharing courtrooms. To his great credit, the gentleman from Tennessee led the effort on it; and it has resulted in real savings, just as this legislation is resulting in real savings.

I tip my hat to the gentleman from Tennessee for his persistence in looking at those very specific ways in which we can achieve our goals.

Mr. DUNCAN. Well, I thank the gentleman from Minnesota, Chairman Oberstar, for those kind words. No one in this Congress admires the chairman more than I do. Certainly no one knows the work of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee better than Chairman Oberstar.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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