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Surface Transportation Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CORKER. Mr. President, I thank the Chair for his leadership. I am here today to appeal to this body. I think the Presiding Officer, I know myself, and a whole host of folks in this body have been concerned about where the country is going. I know many of us have talked about ways of reforming our Medicare system at some point, which I realize may not happen this year, and our Medicaid system, and to move our country to a place where it works fiscally for all Americans. We have talked about all kinds of things. Shoot, I think there have been over 50 or 60 Senators involved in trying to reach consensus on those issues.

Today, we are debating a highway bill. I know we have had a lot of great work that has taken place in EPW, a lot of great work in the Commerce Committee, in the Banking Committee, and in the Finance Committee. What we have done in this bill--and I so appreciate our leadership allowing us to look at this bill in this way--is to move to one portion of the bill and then adding other portions on to the bill. So I thank the leadership of the Senate for letting us look at the bill in this way.

I know there are provisions in the Finance component that are being worked out now before the Finance piece comes to the floor, and again I appreciate the people working on that. But it was my understanding--and I think I am right--that the major components of that Finance work were not supposed to change, yet here we are and what we are getting ready to do with this highway bill is pretty unbelievable.

All of us want to see infrastructure in this country built. I know the Senator from Maryland is a strong proponent of that and has lobbied heavily for that. I was the mayor of a city at a time when it seemed we had nothing but orange barrels, so I thought it was very important we had proper infrastructure.

But with all of the consensus that has developed in the Senate around trying to solve our big issues, here is what we are doing. And many people on the other side of the aisle--my friends--can remember the debate during health care. One of the things that many people on my side of the aisle argued was a problem with the health care bill was that we were going to use 6 years worth of cost and 10 years worth of revenue. That was one of the things that actually got a lot of people's attention and concerned people on both sides of the aisle. What we are doing with this bill is even more egregious. What we are doing with this highway bill is we have 2 years' worth of cost and 10 years of revenue.

Again, I know all of us want to see a highway bill put in place. I think most of us want to see a long-term highway bill put in place. But let me explain what is happening. The Senator from Maryland and I, every year or so, have to deal with something called SGR. It is the sustainability growth rate for Medicare. We put a formula in place back in 1997, but we haven't owned up to that. So what we do every year and a half or so is we kick the can further down the road and we create what is called a financial cliff at the end of it. Every time we deal with that, it gets more and more expensive.

I understand people here in the Senate don't want to support physicians across their States, so we keep kicking the can down the road and not finding a way for a long-term solution that all of us know needs to be in place. I personally understand how people are concerned with how we reform Medicare. It affects a lot of seniors in our States, and we want to make sure we do that in the right way.

What I don't understand is why on this highway bill, which has a trust set up--and by the way, it doesn't have the same type of constituency. I shouldn't be talking politics, but it doesn't. We deal with all of our Governors back home. But why on this highway bill are we creating exactly the same problem for our highway program that we have with SGR? What we are effectively doing, if we pass this bill in the way the Finance Committee has come up with paying for it, is we have created exactly the problem we have with SGR. I cannot imagine why anyone in this body wants to see us take one problem and transfer it to something else that so many of our Governors and people across our country depend upon.

So here we are, in a situation where we all know our fiscal situation is not
sustainable, we know we have to make changes--and I realize it is very unlikely those changes are going to happen this year--and yet we would go ahead and do what I think is unbelievably irresponsible, which is that we would go ahead and pass this highway bill where we are going to spend all the money in 2 years and pay for it over 10. So I am here to appeal to people on both sides of the aisle.
This is a bipartisan issue. It is a bipartisan bill. This isn't one of those things where one side of the aisle is trying to pass something over the objections of the other side of the aisle. But I want to appeal to the conscience of the people in this body, to the moral high ground that sometimes this body can exhibit in representing the American people, that we not do the same kind of thing we have done with SGR--the doc fix and Medicare--to the highway bill.

We ought to spend the amount of money we have coming in. If we don't think that is enough money to pay for it annually, we ought to change the way the revenue structure is coming into the program.

There is no way in the world households in Maryland or Tennessee or any other place would possibly consider doing this. We know fiscally this doesn't work. Financially, it doesn't work. So I am hopeful enough people in this body will put aside expediency, put aside making everybody feel good back home in the short term, and not create a crisis.

By the way, at the end of 2013, if we pass this bill as it is laid out now by the Finance Committee--even with the tweak they are looking at on IRAs--what we are looking at doing is putting in place a $10 billion cliff.

Again, I think it is unbelievably irresponsible that we would transfer the same woes we have in our entitlement programs to the highway program. We ought to either spend the amount of money that is coming in annually and reduce the amount of outflows or we ought to do something different with the gas tax or some other revenue stream. But we should not put our heads in the sand and say, even though we know this doesn't work, it is an election year and we want to get a highway bill behind us. We know it is going to be bad news for our country down the road, but it is good news for us today. To me, that is irresponsible. So I am appealing to both sides of the aisle. I am appealing to all those people who have been to numerous meetings trying to figure out a bipartisan way--not as Republicans or Democrats, but in a bipartisan way--we can deal with our country's financial problems in an appropriate way, a pragmatic way, that doesn't jerk the rug out but gets us where we need to go over the next 10 years. I am appealing to all those people who act very sincerely in these meetings and speak with passion about where our country is going. I am appealing to their goodwill. I am appealing to their conscience. I am suggesting that we take the moral high ground and not let a bill pass like this--a bill that uses the same budget gimmickry we have used for so many years and that has put us in the place we are now in.

I hope, in a bipartisan way, we will say, no, stop. Let's do this in the appropriate way that reflects the trust the American people have placed in us to handle their finances, their tax money, and this country.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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