It is July 7, 2015 and Congress has returned to session from their Fourth of July break. There are a lot of things that need to be done before October. Now, to some that may seem a long way away. But since Congress isn’t known for working at breakneck speed, that is really not far away.
However, the Highway and Transportation Fund is about to run out of money a whole lot faster. As you may have known, I took a trip back to Chicago over the weekend to help celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. I drove through 5 states each way. Let me tell you, the roads in the country are getting worse and worse, and nothing is really being done about it.
When I was driving on the Interstate System, I must admit that I had smoother rides on board ship in 15 foot seas than I had on the Interstate. The roads are in terrible shape. Yes, there were some major construction in certain areas, but most of this construction was more in line with “patch” work rather than repaving work.
The CBO has estimated that above the gas tax revenue, it will take about $100 billion to fund a six-year transportation funding bill. The gas tax is currently at 18.4 cents per gallon. It has been there since 1993. With more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, the gas tax is falling far short of the money needed to properly fund transportation.
There has been a push to raise the gas tax, but naturally, Republicans have ruled that out completely. But, there is another way to help this funding as well as other funding. The President has proposed something called “repatriation.” This calls for taxing corporate overseas profits at a 14-percent rate to raise money to supplement collections from the gas tax. The proposal is part of a six-year, $478 billion that Obama has proposed and has largely been ignored thus far by lawmakers.
Some Republicans are open to the idea. However, they want a lower rate, and they want these corporations to be on a “voluntary” basis. Most sane people think that is ludicrous, but that is what Republicans want.
Additionally, there is a huge fight going on over the budget for 2016. That budget must be passed by October 1, or there will be ANOTHER government shutdown. The stumbling block on the budget is sequestration. On the Defense side, the Republicans have approved $38 billion and put it in what is basically a “war” fund so they can get around the 2011 sequestration laws. Yet, they are firmly against raising the sequestration levels for anything but Defense and are going ahead with drastically cutting just about everything else.
“Democrats must decide whether they support our troops or not,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), focusing on the defense bill. “In a time of grave threats to our nation, Democrats are denying funding for our troops, their families, and the nation’s veterans in order to extract more government spending on Washington bureaucracies like the IRS and the EPA. They are putting their political interests ahead of the most important priority we have –- protecting our nation –- and that is unconscionable.”
That is a total farce. See, the President had proposed raising the Defense Budget in his proposal. All the Republicans did was ignore every other department of government and use a gimmick in order to get to the President’s numbers. The Democrats on the other hand are not against the Defense numbers, they simply want to hold negotiations with Republicans on other items including getting rid of the sequestration hurdle.
When sequester was first established there were agreements on reducing the deficit. And, as a result, the deficit is lower than it has been in years. Please don’t confuse deficit and debt as the Republicans want you to. The deficit is what would be added each year. By reducing or eliminating the deficit, the debt would not rise anymore.
Of course, one way to reduce the deficit is to raise taxes, especially on the 1%. That, of course is kryptonite to Republicans and they will never agree to it. The other is to eliminate the overseas profit loophole and the ability of companies to claim a foreign country as their corporate nationality even though their headquarters is right here in the U.S. I don’t know why Republicans are fighting this, but they are.
So, if nothing is done about the transportation funding, it will run out of money on July 31. All of those construction jobs on the interstate, and elsewhere, will come to a stop. Plus, if Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on a budget, we will face another government shutdown. All Democrats want is to negotiate. For some unexplained reason, the Republicans have refused to even talk.
I guess this is what happens when a major political party decides that everything is based on “my way or shutdown.” What a lovely way to govern.