AMENDING THE INTERNAL REVENUE CODE OF 1986 TO RESTORE THE HIGHWAY TRUST FUND BALANCE -- (House of Representatives - July 23, 2008)
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Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin. Madam Speaker, if this were about politics, then the easy thing to do would be just to vote for it. That's the political thing to do.
I rise in opposition to this bill because it would increase the deficit, because it's coming to the floor with less than a day's notice and no opportunity for amendment.
Madam Speaker, I support the highway program. But that is not what this debate is about. I understand how critical highway funding is for our Nation's roads and our bridges. We had a really rough winter in Wisconsin. We need to get back to work to fix those roads. It's also not a debate about whether the highway trust fund shortfall should be fixed. It should be fixed. It's about how we should pay for it, or if we pay for it.
I support fixing it in a responsible way, which I don't believe this bill does. Because of my concerns, I introduced legislation earlier this year that would have fixed this program, this deficit, in a fiscally responsible way.
In 1998, Congress passed a law called TEA-21 that gave the highway trust fund special protections in the budget process. This is what Bud Shuster, the chairman of the committee at the time, said about the bill: ``This is an historic piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker, because now the American people will know that the trust is being put back in the highway trust fund. When the average American drives up to the gas pump and pays his 18.3 cents Federal tax, that money is free to be spent. It is a guarantee. It is an ironclad guarantee. Should there be more revenue going into the trust fund, that money will be available to be spent. Should there be less revenue going into the trust fund, then we will have to reduce the expenditures. It is fair, it is equitable and it is keeping faith with the American people.''
Madam Speaker, this bill moves from funding highways with gas taxes to relying on borrowed money. If the highway trust fund is going to get access to the general fund, as it is in this bill, then it should compete for these resources with all other discretionary programs.
It should be budgeted for, but that is not what is happening here. My fear is that this transfer will be just the start, that we will be back here for a fix in 2010 with a bigger shortfall because as CBO says, the highway trust fund has not just hit a temporary rough patch, it is permanent red ink going into the future. The current shortfall is between $1.4 billion and $3.3 billion, and then it gets bigger year after year, well over a $300 billion shortfall over the next 10 years. Undoubtedly, when we get updated numbers from CBO and OMB, the shortfall will get even bigger.
If highways are to continue to enjoy special budgetary status as trust-funded programs, then this general fund transfer should be offset or repaid.
I want to work with supporters of this bill to find a way that avoids an increase in the deficit that this bill would cause. If Congress decides not to offset this transfer, then Congress should revisit the budgetary treatment for highways and reform it such that highways compete for funding in the annual budget process just as all other government programs do.
I urge my colleagues to think about this. Let's come up with a funding mechanism that guarantees we fix this shortfall, and let's do it in a fiscally responsible way where we actually honor the integrity of the budget process.
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