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Public Statements

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. INHOFE. Mr. President, I am not sure, I say to my good friend Senator Boxer, she is going to be too excited about some of the things because what I wish to do is establish what is unique about this bill.

There is a committee in the Senate. It is not like any committee in the House. In the House, they have two separate committees. It is called Environment and Public Works. So it is two almost unrelated committees. Our committee has more jurisdiction than any other committee in the Senate, but it handles things that are totally different.

I will sound a little partisan right now, but I am very concerned about President Obama and what he has done to this country in terms of the deficit. A lot of people do not realize that the budgets actually come from the President--not the Democrats, not the Republicans, not the House and the Senate. Those budgets have had deficits of around $4 1/2 trillion. I have been very upset about that.

I am upset about what the President is doing with the military right now. If we have to go through the sequestration as is planned, we are going to lose about $1 trillion in defense spending over the next 10 years. The third area is in energy. We have the opportunity to be totally energy self-supporting just by developing our own resources, but the problem is a political problem. The fourth area is over regulation.

I say this because my good friend, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, would disagree with me in all those areas because we do not agree. I look at the regulations and the fact that, in my opinion, they are driving our manufacturing base overseas. I see the crown jewel of all regulations is cap and trade. They tried their best to do it. They had the McCain-Lieberman bill in 2003 and again in 2005. We had the Boxer bill--several Boxer bills that Senator Boxer was involved in--certainly Waxman-Markey.

We defeated them all, and now what the President is trying to do is do through regulation what he could not do through legislation. I only say that because I am in agreement with the chairman of the committee, Senator Boxer, on most of what she just said because of the significance of this. I am going to repeat what I said yesterday, I guess it was, or the day before. When rankings come out, historically since I have been in the House and the Senate--I came to the Senate in 1994--I am always ranked among the most conservative Members.
My good friend Senator Boxer is ranked among the most liberal Members--progressive, liberal. But what I appreciate about her is that she is a sincere liberal.

She understands that. In her feelings, she believes government should be involved in more things than I do. I hasten to say this again, that while I have been historically considered the most conservative Member, I am a big spender in two areas. One area is national defense--I am very concerned about what is happening in national defense--the other area is infrastructure.

Way back when I was in the House and on the Transportation Infrastructure Committee, at that time we worked very hard for a robust bill, for reauthorizing the transportation system. We were successful. That was back in the good-old days, I say to Senator Boxer, when we always had surpluses in the highway trust fund.

The highway trust fund probably goes down as the most popular tax in history because people know, since 1953, it has been a trust fund where people pay their 18 or so cents per gallon, and it goes to maintaining those roads they are driving on. So it is directly related to the gasoline purchased.

Then some things happened. First of all, I can remember when we had surpluses. So everybody who had their own deal wanted to get in on surpluses, and they started expanding the highway trust fund expenditures beyond just maintaining and building roads. That was one of the problems. Then along came a lot of the changes. When they talk about electric cars, whether one is for them or against them, and mandating gas mileage, that reduces the proceeds dramatically. In the beginning, I think they probably should have had the highway trust fund geared to a percentage instead of cents.

Now fast-forward to recent times and we have a deteriorating system. I was proud of the Environment and Public Works Committee I have been talking about. In 2006, prior to the last election, I was chairman because the Republicans were in the majority. At that time, we did the 2005 highway reauthorization bill, and it was $286.4 billion--a very robust bill. Yet we could pretty much document that we didn't do anything new in that bill. We just maintained what we had. It expired in 2009. Since then, we have been operating on extensions.

This is significant. Before I get on to operating on an extension, I will mention what we are talking about, Senator Boxer and I. Our Environment and Public Works Committee has the jurisdiction over the highway title of the bill. Some things are controversial. Not many. I don't know of anything controversial in the highway title. The Commerce Committee with Senator Rockefeller as chairman and Senator Hutchison as ranking member, the Finance Committee with Senators BAUCUS and HATCH, and the Banking Committee--that is Tim Johnson and Richard Shelby from Alabama--have done their work now.

Ours is the highway title. In my State of Oklahoma, because of the condition of the bridges and highways--the last time I looked, I think Missouri and Oklahoma tied at dead last in the condition of our bridges--we had a young lady--and I have told this story many times; this is most compelling. This young lady--a mother of three small children in Oklahoma City--drove under one of our bridges and a chunk of concrete dropped off and killed them. These are serious matters. So bridges have dropped, just as one did in Minnesota and down in south Texas.

We have had so many times when crumbling infrastructure has given way. I remember when they considered Oklahoma--since we became a State in 1907, we are one of the newer States--people didn't think we had infrastructure problems. They thought that was just confined to California, New York, and the older parts of the country. That is not true anymore because in many of those older parts the infrastructure has been rebuilt while some of the newer States have been ignored. That is why in Oklahoma it is critical.

People say they don't want earmarks. Senator Boxer said: We don't have earmarks.

I would like to discuss that because I am a strong believer as opposed to the people who don't want us to do what we are supposed to be doing when we were sworn to uphold the Constitution, article I, section 9--we should be the ones, the House and Senate, to do the appropriating and the authorization. By saying we are not going to do it and defining earmarks as appropriations and authorization, I can see why Democrats lined up to do away with earmarks in a recent vote because that turns it over to President Obama, and he was very supportive of that.

Some Republicans are going to talk about that again. This is not something that is a problem with this bill. In this bill, we have things that come from the needs of our States. We have a secretary of transportation in Oklahoma who has been before our committee numerous times because that secretary of transportation has been in that job for many years now. Before that, he was director of transportation for, I think, 30 years. There is nobody who is more knowledgeable on that issue.

So we checked--and I do--with the department of transportation in Oklahoma on their prioritizing of projects. We have a system--and I wish all States had this system. We have transportation districts and chairmen of the districts. They can use the same criteria throughout Oklahoma, and they determine what should be fixed and where the money should be spent. So it is not a political decision, a decision where we are doing what most people consider to be earmarks and trying to help our friends. That is not what we do in Oklahoma. This system, frankly, works very well.

So now we go back to the extensions. Here is the problem with extensions. Our 2005 bill expired in 2009. We have now gone through eight extensions. The problem we have with extensions is that we cannot do anything creative. We cannot change, reform the system. We just have to take the money that is available and try to use it as best we can. But we cannot not reform a system that needs to be reformed.

I have said some things that were not all that complimentary about my partner--in this case, Senator Boxer. We have served together for years in trying to overcome these obstacles. On the highway title of the transportation bill that we are going to be voting on, we have done a good job. When I think about the reforms--and I compliment Senator Boxer. She has been in a real tough position with some of the more liberal members of her party and in some of the things to which she has agreed. We sat down and worked out the differences in a lot of these problems.

State flexibility, we have that in this bill, which we

have never had before. I have always been a believer that we are the guys who are in the best position to determine the needs of the States.

I have often said I have served on the State level of government; I have been mayor of a major city. I believe the closer you get to the people, the more responsible government is. I believe that to be true. That is what we have done. We have done that in the flexibility that we have given the States in our program.

Senator Boxer mentioned that we cut down the number of programs by two-thirds. We are down to one-third in the number of programs we had before. That is major reform.

NEPA: We have done streamlining, which is something we have tried to do for a long time. Let me mention the one area of reform that I want everybody to listen to because this is significant. We have had a friendly disagreement, Senator Boxer and I, on transportation enhancement. These are things we could argue do not affect transportation directly. I have always believed these things we spend money on that comes from the highway trust fund should go into transportation projects. But they have not. Two percent of the highway funding is required to go to enhancements. That equates to 10 percent of the surface transportation money.

So we can use 10 percent or 2 percent, depending on which one we are applying it to. If we take 2 percent of the total funding, that is a lot of money. Enhancements are things people criticize us for. I think that criticism is just.

How did we handle this situation and get a highway bill in the highway title
portion? We sat down and worked out something right here on the floor of the Senate and said there has to be an answer. In Oklahoma, we don't even want enhancements. How can we handle this? We worked out an agreement that a State, at its own decision level, is able to use this 2 percent of the total highway funding that would go to enhancements in any way they want to do it, and primarily in taking care of some of the unfunded mandates, the requirements there, where the government is saying to people in Oklahoma that this is what they have to do--some endangered species stuff and those things, they can use it this way.

In my State, we cannot have any of the 2 percent going to enhancements. Other States feel differently. This is not one size fits all.

So we have the opportunity that they can do what they want. These are reforms. We never had reforms like those before. I am proud we are able to do it. I compliment the chairman of the committee for being willing to do this, for taking the time to talk to her colleagues and say: All right, the choice is not do we want a perfect bill for Democrats or do I want one for Republicans. I think we have a pretty near perfect bill for Republicans on the highway title. I am very proud of what we have come up with. Nonetheless, it has been heavy lifting. I applaud the chairman of the committee.

I want to go back to this extension. If we were to continue to operate on extensions, the amount of money we would be spending on highways would reduce by about 34 percent, about one-third. If we talk to Gary Ridley in Oklahoma as to what that would do in terms of our program that we already have online, we would have to default on some contracts. We would have to be in a situation where we are not able to do the things that are in our 5-year plan in Oklahoma. We think things out in Oklahoma. We go over the State and make determinations. It is done outside of the political system by people charged with different transportation districts. I can tell you now that it will be--it is a life-threatening issue. If we are dropping down by 34 percent, it will be a serious problem.

I suggest to every Member of the Senate, before they make final decisions on the bill, call their director of highways in their States and talk to them. Talk to your State legislators, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals alike. This is the one area where they will agree. In Oklahoma, they are in agreement. They want to have a highway bill. They look to constituents and say this is life threatening and we have to do a better job. This is a partnership thing. We are going to have more flexibility for State programs, streamlining, and are not going to be encumbered by mandatory enhancements. I don't know of one member of the Oklahoma House or Senate who doesn't want this.

What is wrong with doing what the people at home want? I used to work as mayor of the second largest city in Oklahoma. My phone rings off the hook about programs that need to be completed in our highway system in Oklahoma. I sometimes look at people who demagog the issue and talk about: Oh, no, we don't want to spend all this. There is one area where conservatives and liberals alike should be spending--two areas--national defense and infrastructure.

I remember when Congresswoman BACHMANN was talking around the country about the spending during the earmark argument. They got back to Minnesota and talked about the needs for transportation. She said, ``I am not talking about transportation.''

That is the point we need to get across. Of course, I throw in national defense, but that is not in this discussion. Transportation infrastructure is something we have to do. In Oklahoma, we are going to do our part, do everything we can to get with the bill. It is not going to change anything except for the fact that it is going to be able to handle that.

Oh, I didn't see--but I am managing the time.

By the way, I want to comment, Mr. President----

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Mr. INHOFE. No. I just wanted to say that this should be very visible to everyone. How could you and I agree and feel so strongly about infrastructure in America when we have such diverse opinions philosophically? My case rests.

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Mr. INHOFE. Even though we haven't ironed out how to handle time, we have a Senator who wanted to speak 20 minutes ago, and if we could, I would love to get back into the dialog.

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Mr. INHOFE. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the junior Senator from Kentucky be recognized for up to 7 minutes. He has been trying to get on for quite some time. I think that is agreeable with everyone.

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