Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish
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Tomorrow, the House is scheduled to vote on a procedural motion to instruct conferees of the surface transportation bill by Congressman Paul Broun (GA-10). The motion would instruct conferees to limit funding levels for federal highway and public transportation programs to what is supported by the Highway Trust Fund. Unfortunately, because Congress has punted on providing new revenue to the Highway Trust Fund since 1993, such an effort would result in cuts topping 30% in 2013.
The Chamber strongly opposes the motion to instruct which is why we sent a Key Vote letter to the House urging it to vote against this legislation. The Chamber may consider including votes on, or in relation to, the motion to instruct in our annual How They Voted scorecard.
While we at the Chamber agree federal spending needs to be dramatically reigned in, this is not the effort we had envisioned. Cutting programs that support millions of jobs around the country and pave the way for future economic growth is penny-wise and pound-foolish, particularly when the programs – in their entirety – amount to less than half of one percent of all federal spending.
I can understand Dr. Broun’s frustration with the continued reliance on infusions of cash from the General Treasury into the Highway Trust fund, to merely maintain current service levels, let alone address vast needs for expanded capacity, and the $629 billion backlog of maintenance on roads that were built over 50 years ago. However, instead of gutting the federal programs and assuming struggling states will just pick up the slack, Congress should put together a package of thoughtful reforms that ensure every last dollar spent on these programs is maximized, provide a short-term revenue bridge with agreed-upon offsets that the House and Senate are currently working on for the two-year reauthorization, and start hammering out a long-term revenue solution for the Highway Trust Fund. Beyond the near-term benefit of direct job support, these efforts will ensure the U.S. economy does not choke on its own success as trade volume rebounds and the service sector grows.
Completing the first step in this process—finishing a conference report on SAFETEA-LU reauthorization—is well within reach. It’s time for the House and the Senate to work together and get the job done. While neither the House nor the Senate have stepped forward with a user-fee based, sustainable funding solution, the legislation currently being negotiated in conference is rife with critical reforms that will help improve the business of transportation investment around the country and will help pave the path forward to more comprehensive solutions. It also shores up the Highway Trust Fund so federal investments won’t be cut by over 30%. Instead of debating short-sighted procedural motions designed to score political points at home, Congress should deliver on a pro-growth package meant to benefit all Americans and they should do it before the next extension expires on June 30.