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Public Statements

Surface Transportation Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CORKER. Madam President, I rise to speak regarding the highway bill. We each come into work daily with different thoughts. I come in today very hopeful. The fact is we have a bipartisan bill that hopefully will actually have the finance component of it on the floor soon. We have had it worked through the various committees of the Senate--the Banking Committee, the Commerce Committee, the EPW Committee. I think what this body is waiting for right now is the Finance Committee package, and I know they are continuing to work on that package. The reason I come down here, in a very hopeful way, is I think all of us support the highway bill. We want to see a bill such as this passed. But I think we also want to see it passed in an appropriate way, and some of the earlier renditions that have come out of the Finance Committee, unfortunately, have not paid for this bill. It is my sense that maybe what is happening right now is that there is some work being done to try to make that not the case.

I know the Senator from New York is familiar with the health care debate we had years ago, and one of the issues many of the folks on this side of the aisle were concerned about--and I think many folks on the other side of the aisle were concerned about--was some of the gimmickry used to pay for it. We had 6 years' worth of spending and 10 years' worth of revenues. Obviously, people around the country--rightfully so--were concerned about that. What we have at present with this highway bill is something that is even worse than that. We have 2 years' worth of spending and 10 years' worth of revenues to pay for it. Everybody in this body knows there is no family in New York and no family in Tennessee who could possibly survive under that scenario.

I had an op-ed published this morning in the Washington Post talking about the fact that we have had so many bipartisan efforts here to try to deal with deficit reduction. We had the Bowles-Simpson report that came out; we had 64 Senators--32 on each side of the aisle--who wrote a letter to the President to encourage him to embrace deficit reduction and progrowth tax reform. We had another group of colleagues who became involved in something called Go BIG, and the whole focus was to deal with the fiscal issues of this country.

I come in somewhat hopeful this morning, but what I fear is happening is because this highway bill is so popular that Members on both sides of the aisle are willing to kick the can down the road in an area where we could--in a bipartisan way--address deficit reduction and get the highway bill on a spend-as-you-go basis, meaning that we pay for it as we go--instead of doing that, because this is an election year and this is a popular bill, both parties--instead of leading on deficit reduction--are going to cave in and basically kick the can down the road because this is ``a popular bill.'' To me, that is not what the American people sent us to do.

So we have this opportunity to pay for it. I don't know whether we are going to get where we need to go. As a matter of fact, even though I am hopeful we are going to make progress on this issue, I don't think we are going to quite get there. I sense in this body a desire to kick the can down the road, to turn our head, to not live up to our responsibilities as it relates to this bill.

So I am going to offer two amendments. One amendment would say: Look, we have a highway trust fund. We have had the transfer of $34 billion or $35 billion into it from the general fund since 2008. We have a trust fund. We ought to either spend the money that comes into it accordingly and reduce the amount of spending on highways or what we should do is lower discretionary spending someplace else.

Again, we have not seen the final bill because another negotiation is taking place. It appears to me, in order to live up to our responsibilities to the American people, that what we would have to do is cut about $11 billion or $12 billion out of the discretionary caps we agreed to as part of the Budget Control Act to make this appropriate. I will offer an amendment once we see what the final package is that does just that.

In other words, if we all think highways and transit bills are important--and by the way, I do. I used to be the mayor of a city. I know that infrastructure is very important to our economic growth in this country. But if we believe spending on highways and transit is important and it is a priority, then what we need to do is lower discretionary caps and lower spending in another area. For us to do anything short of that would be making a mockery of the American people and certainly making a mockery of the arrangement that was created through the Budget Control Act.

So I am certainly hopeful this amendment will pass if we continue on this course. I can't imagine that in a bipartisan way both sides would show the irresponsibility that has led to today anyway. I am still hopeful that by the time we pass this highway bill, we will have come together and acted responsibly and actually paid for this. But I think the American people understand that passing a bill that spends money over 2 years and tries to recoup it over a 10-year period is a highway to insolvency.

So I am committed more than ever to us living up to our responsibilities to the American people. I believe there is something brewing in this body that says we have to live up to these responsibilities. I think the best place for us to start is on this highway bill.

I will close with this. I know the Senator from Utah wishes to speak for a few moments also. A lot of people are saying: Senator Corker, this is such a small amount of money; and, gosh, this is such a popular bill--everybody likes it. Can't we just turn our heads on this issue and kick the can down the road and do something we know fiscally is totally irresponsible because all of us like highways?

My response is, look, if we cannot deal with the highway bill that, by the way, is just simple math--this isn't something such as Medicare reform or something else where we have all kinds of moving parts that are very difficult to deal with--the highway bill is just simple math. If we don't have the ability in this body to deal with just addition and subtraction, there is no way the American people are going to trust us with things such as Medicare reform and Social Security reform and making sure those programs are solvent down the road for seniors who depend upon them.

So what I would say to this body is we have a great opportunity this week and next week to show the American people we are serious about getting this country on a solid footing. There is no better place to do that than on a popular bill. In other words, if we have to make priorities, if we have to make choices, if we have to cut spending in other places to make 2 years' worth of payouts equal 2 years worth of income, there is no place better to do it than on the highway bill. I urge this body to stand tall, to meet its responsibilities, and only pass this bill if it is paid for over the same amount of time that it is extended. So that means all the money that goes out is paid for over the next 2 years. I will be offering amendments to do that if the Finance Committee does not in and of itself.

I thank my colleagues for listening, and I yield the floor.


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