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Motion to Instruct Conferees on H.R. 4348, Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012, Part II

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I might consume.

Well, here we are in the dark of the night, voting on what is really, for the most part meaningless, which is a motion to instruct conferees, which is nonbinding. But in this case, since this might indicate the intent of the majority, should this motion prevail, this is a very significant discussion of the future of our country.

Now, the gentleman talked about runaway spending, and we have some substantial agreement there. I was the lead Democratic sponsor on a balanced budget amendment which would force us to agree on ways to move toward fiscal responsibility, including both revenues, which that side denies, and expenditures.

But when we look at expenditures, we need to discriminate between consumption and investment. Investment is transportation and infrastructure, giving the United States of America a 21st century, competitive infrastructure system to compete with the rest of the world.

Our competitor nations get it. China's spending almost 10 percent of their gross domestic product on transportation investment so they can be more competitive, get their goods to market more quickly, more efficiently, more fuel efficiently, move their people more efficiently.

India, 5 percent. Brazil, 6 percent. United States of America, a little bit less than 1 percent--and the gentleman's amendment would cut it to zero for the next year. Yes, zero.

Now, how does that happen?

Well, the fact is that as we incur obligations to spend money on infrastructure, there's a tail, there's a lag. We only reimburse the States once the projects are finished. And it happens that, over the next year, the past obligations to which the Federal Government has committed, would equal the amount of money to which the gentleman would limit us, which would mean no new investment in transportation and infrastructure in this country, despite the fact we have 150,000 bridges on the Federal system that are at the point of collapse or need substantial rehabilitation.

We have 40 percent of the miles on the national highway system that don't just need an overlay; they need to be dug up. They need to be totally rebuilt. And a $70 billion backlog on our transit system. That's the 19th and 20th century system, let alone a 21st century transit them.

And guess what? If we make these investments with the ``Buy America'' requirements, which many on that side of the aisle are opposed to, we would put millions to work in this country. So we are, on this side, fighting for more investment. There are many on that side fighting for reduced investment. But this motion would actually propose zero, zero investment for the next year in transportation and infrastructure in America, with the deteriorating system. And that's somehow fiscally prudent.

The gentleman talked about the Chamber of Commerce. Kind of interesting because actually I have a letter dated June 5, pretty recent, from the Chamber of Commerce:

Passing transportation reauthorization legislation is a concrete step Congress and the administration can take right now to support job, economic productivity without adding to the deficit. The Chamber strongly opposes the Broun amendment, the motion to instruct conferees, and urges you to vote against this effort to slash funding for highways, transit, and safety programs. The Chamber may consider including votes on or in relation to this Broun amendment to instruct in our annual how they voted score card.

That's good. I might end up at 5 percent or 10 percent because I am going to oppose it. A lot of time I'm kind of zero with the Chamber. So that's good. They get it.

There's a long list of businesses and others that are opposed to this amendment. They understand for America to compete in the modern 21st century world we need an up-to-date transportation system. We don't have it, and the 20th century system we have, the legacy of Dwight David Eisenhower, a Republican President, is falling apart.

At the levels the gentleman would mandate with this motion to instruct, according to the Congressional Budget Office, there would be zero new investment in the coming year. That is hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, opportunities lost.

Now, I understand that on their side of the aisle they're having a very robust debate--I didn't bring my poster tonight--about the issue of devolution. And devolution is a theory that the Federal Government shouldn't be involved in national transportation policy. It should be delegated to the 50 States, and they should be responsible for paying for it.

Well, guess what? We had that system until 1956. Dwight David Eisenhower and the surface transportation legacy he gave us with the national highway system. And I have a great poster--I wish I'd brought it--which is a great photo from the air of the new, brand new, spanking new, beautiful new Kansas Turnpike, 1956. And guess what?

It ends kind of abruptly, and you go, wow, what's that line? Why does it end there?

Well, that was a farmer's field in Oklahoma, because Oklahoma said, well, we'll build our section too. We'll have a new, coordinated thing. But they said, well, we don't have the money, and they couldn't do it. And it wasn't done until the Eisenhower bill was adopted and we had a national investment in a national transportation highway system.

They want to go back to the good old days, a 50-State system funded by the 50 States that's disconnected. So freight comes into L.A., which is going to all of the Western United States, well, even some of it further to the east, maybe, probably not all the way to Georgia, who knows. Some of it. And well, I guess California would have to pay for moving all the freight for the rest of the country. Well, maybe they're not going to do that, and maybe the other States aren't going to do that under this kind of new, bizarre theory of devolution.

We need a 21st century, efficient, competitive, world-class national transportation system. The bill that the Senate passed won't get us there. I would vote for it. Won't get us there.

The bill that was proposed on the Republican side of the aisle, which they couldn't even get out of conference, would move us backwards. This bill would take us back to essentially, not quite even Third World status because Third World countries are investing more of their GDP in transportation and infrastructure than us. It would be Fourth World, formerly First World, vaulting over everybody else saying, hey, we're just going to let it fall apart. We're going to leave it up to the 50 States, and maybe they can get it together for a national system. Maybe they can't. This is nuts.


Mr. DeFAZIO. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I appreciate and I certainly do respect the gentleman from Georgia, and he is a gentleman, but let's get a few things straight here.

We're not talking about government jobs. We're talking about private sector jobs. The Federal Government does not build bridges. The Federal Government does not restore the condition of our highways. The Federal Government does not build transit vehicles or invest in transit systems. What the Federal Government does is to invest with strong ``buy America'' provisions to the best low-cost bidders to make and restore these products to make America more competitive.

One of the things that underlays our system, the most basic thing--I mean, George Washington, he started to build canals; Abraham Lincoln, the transcontinental railway; Dwight David Eisenhower, the national highway system, which is now falling apart; and Ronald Reagan put transit into the highway trust fund, because we shouldn't neglect our urban areas and the needs of those people.

The effect of the Broun amendment would be zero new Federal expenditures beginning October 1 next year on transit highways and other investments in transportation in this country. You can't get around that. That's what they're proposing. Because we have past obligations and the way they've written, this would limit us to only pay for past obligations, not any new obligations.

They rattled on and prattled on a bit about the Obama stimulus. I voted against it. Why did I vote against it? Because 7 percent was transportation investment and 40 percent was tax cuts. And guess what? Those damn tax cuts didn't put anybody back to work, and they won't put anybody back to work in the future. That's all you guys want, is tax cuts. We need investment in our country. We need investment in moving people and goods. We need to compete with the world, and you don't want to do it. That's nuts.

I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Blumenauer).


Mr. DeFAZIO. I thank the gentleman. I would point out that the Senate, the proposed Senate bill, which we could pass tonight, if we call people back, or tomorrow, or next week if we stayed in town to work, but we have breaks every other week now--39 legislative days until the election. America doesn't have any problems. We don't need to be here. Right? Come on.

But the bottom line is the Senate bill would not create a penny of new debt and would fund current levels of investment, which are not what we need; but we could get by with that for 2 years until we figure out a way to make more robust investments.

The gentleman would reduce that investment to zero, zero, not exaggeration. That's the Congressional Budget Office--zero. No Federal spending for transit, no Federal spending for highways next year. That's hundreds of thousands, millions, probably a million jobs, probably 1.6 million, we would sacrifice on the altar of what? Again, back to the principle, investment consumption.

Certainly you can understand that on your side of the aisle. It's been a Republican tradition to invest in America, to invest in a more efficient transportation system for America, to make us more competitive in the world, to move our people and our goods more efficiently, to avoid importing foreign fuel and all the other things we have to do with an inefficient system. This would defy all that and say, no, United States of America, we're not going to invest in our national transportation system.

We're going to devolve that to the 50 States. We're going to go back to 1956 when one State decides to make an investment and the other State doesn't and the road ends at the border. I can't understand what this is all about.


Mr. DeFAZIO. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

The language limits the funding out of the highway trust fund, including the mass transit account for Federal aid highway and transit programs, to amounts that do not exceed $37.5 billion, about a third of the cost of the continuing war in Afghanistan, which I would like to bring to a close. But the existing obligations of the Federal Government for past construction, we reimburse States once the project is done, transit project, highway project, bridge project, done, we reimburse them. We don't pay them in advance. Our current obligations for the next year are $38.8 billion.

So, if we limit the outlays to $37.5 billion, and we owe $38.8 billion to the States when they deliver their completed contracts in the coming year, that means we would have negative spending on Federal investments in transportation and infrastructure.

While competitive nations around the world are investing dramatically to more efficiently move goods and people, we would spend less than zero.

I don't know how we spend less than zero, but that's what this amendment would do. You keep prattling on about the Obama stimulus. I voted against it. I was one of the few Democrats who did. I voted against it not because of investment in infrastructure, but because it didn't invest in infrastructure. The President talked about it. Larry Summers hated infrastructure.

Timmy Geithner hates infrastructure. Old-school Jason Furman, all his advisers, they hate it. Seven percent of the money we borrowed was invested in infrastructure. Seven percent of that $800-some billion dollars. And guess what? I can justify that borrowing because I can say to my kids and my grandkids, We built that bridge, we built that transit system, we built that highway, and you're still using it, and it made America more competitive.

But over 40 percent was tax cuts. He adopted the Republican approach. How many jobs did the tax cuts create? Nada, zero, none. You guys want to do more tax cuts, and you don't want to do any investment. That's what this would lead us to. You want to continue the Bush tax cuts--all of them--and you want to invest less than zero in Federal infrastructure.


Mr. DeFAZIO. I yield myself 3 minutes.

Again, we're failing to discriminate between investment and consumption. The Republicans were all for consumptive tax cuts, i.e., give people the money, they'll spend it on consumer goods, that will somehow put people back to work, as opposed to investing in the future of our country. That's what I'm talking about here.

It's interesting that they're on the wrong side from the Chamber of Commerce, the Association of General Contractors, and other groups that are incredibly generous to them during the campaign season who think they're very wrongheaded with this amendment.

This isn't fancy language. I have the statistics

from the Department of Transportation. Over the next year, the Federal Government is legally obligated for past construction projects authorized under law to pay $38.8 billion to the States. This amendment would say we can spend no more than $37.5 billion in the coming year. That means we cannot even meet our legal obligations for past construction which will be completed by October 1. That means an end to all Federal investment in transportation in this country on October 1 for the next year.

It's not fancy language. It's a fact. It comes from the Congressional Budget Office, which the Republicans control, and the Department of Transportation, which the Obama administration controls. It's pretty much the consensus in the business community, the Chamber of Commerce, the Association of General Contractors, and everybody else. This would mean an end to investment for 1 year. That's a minimum of 1.6 million jobs lost. It's an incredible lost opportunity for the future of our kids and grandkids.

You need to understand the difference between--you're supposedly the party of business. It's like people borrow money when they're in business if they have a good investment to make, if they can make their company more competitive. We can make our country more competitive if we invest in our transportation infrastructure. If we neglect it and people have to detour around the 150,000 bridges that are weight-limited and about to collapse like the one in Minnesota, if they have to detour around the 40 percent of the deteriorated national highway system, if people can't get to work or get killed like they did here in Washington, D.C., on a deficient mass transit system because we have a $70 billion backlog, and all of these investments, when made by the private sector, for the private sector, and for the people of America, are made in America. And you would defer instead to more tax cuts.


Mr. DeFAZIO. Again, I wish this wasn't the dark of the night because this is a debate America should and would like to have. I'll reiterate: the United States Chamber of Commerce, with whom I frequently disagree, strongly opposes the Broun motion. We have a long list of groups, private sector business groups, who oppose this motion because this is not about government jobs. It's about private sector jobs. This is not about government gone wild.

I wish it had been different. I wish that the stimulus had been half as large and 100 percent invested in the infrastructure of this country. We would have put millions more people back to work, and we would be on the road to recovery today. But instead, in deference to three Senate Republicans, the President, who wanted to look bipartisan, gave in to six times as much money for tax cuts as investment in infrastructure. And you want to blame infrastructure for the debt and the deficit, or the Obama failed stimulus? No, guys, no. It's your policies. We implemented them. And they don't work. We need to invest in the underpinnings of the country.

When I was first elected to office, I served with a very, very conservative Republican, a guy named Bill Rogers on the Lane County Commission, and he would always say, Government's for two things. I'd say, What's that, Bill? He'd say, Roads and rope. Roads and rope. That is public safety and infrastructure.

And there has been bipartisan agreement since George Washington that the Federal Government has an obligation to more efficiently move goods and people in this country. That's a long time before the incredibly competitive 21st century and what we're dealing with today with our huge trade deficits and everything else. That was George Washington.

Abraham Lincoln, a Republic President: Build the transcontinental railway. Borrowed money to do it, by God. What do you know? And then, Dwight David Eisenhower, the National Highway System, National Defense Highway System. And Ronald Reagan: We need to invest in transit in our cities.

And you would turn back the clock to pre-George Washington and say the 50 States--we didn't have States then, but, you know, you guys are going to at least allow us to keep federalism and that intact. But ``they should create somehow a Federal system. They should coordinate. They should raise the money. This is not an obligation of the Federal Government.''

This is not imaginary. This is not play. It's not ideology. It's simple hard numbers and facts. The number you would allow for the next year is deficient to the previous obligations.

Now, I know you guys took us--and there are a number of you on that side who say, hey, it doesn't matter if the Government of the United States of America defaults. I think it does. I've been good for my debts. I think our country has got to be good for our debts. And I think we would be in a disaster if we weren't.

So you can say that. Oh, yeah, you know, it's meaningless. It's facts.


Mr. DeFAZIO. This is reality. Invest in America. Why do you hate this country so much?


Mr. DeFAZIO. Well, give me four, maybe.

I did not mean to direct the remark to you. It was a generic statement out of concern.


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