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Uncertain Future for Next Week’s Highway Trust Fund Extension Vote

Camp, R-Mich., will lead a Thursday markup of legislation to extend the Highway Trust Fund (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Camp, R-Mich., will lead a Thursday markup of legislation to extend the Highway Trust Fund (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House GOP leadership is prepared to push ahead on legislation to save the Highway Trust Fund from looming insolvency, with a vote expected on the chamber floor next week.  

It all depends, however, on the reception to the new proposal, already being met with some skepticism from key lawmakers and influential outside groups. The House will also have to reconcile its work with that of the Senate , which is taking a different track.  

And the clock is ticking quickly down to the August recess. The House’s plan, to be marked up by the Ways and Means Committee Thursday morning, would raise roughly $6.4 billion from “pension smoothing,” an accounting practice that lets companies with defined benefit retirement plans assume higher interest rates when calculating how much money they need to contribute for their employees’ retirement. That reduces their required contributions into the plans and, in turn, raises the amount of taxes they owe, bringing new revenue to the federal government.  

Between the $6.4 billion from pension smoothing and an additional $3.5 billion from extending customs fees until 2024, the revenue would be raised over 10 years to pay for a 10-months extension of funds for key highway and infrastructure projects across the country. It also would transfer $1 billion to the Highway Trust Fund from a separate trust fund designed to clean up underground oil leaks.  

“This is the only package with a proven history of getting big bipartisan votes in both the House and Senate,” Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said in a statement. “And while it doesn’t provide as much funding as I would like — enough to get through the end of next year — it does give Congress and the tax-writing committees ample time to consider a more long-term solution to the highway trust fund.”  

Speaker John A. Boehner, who was several weeks earlier touting a doomed plan to pay for a one year Highway Trust Fund extension using 10 years of savings from ending Saturday mail delivery, said at a press conference on Wednesday Camp’s plan was “solid,” and that he was “looking forward” to seeing legislative action on the measure.  

As with his first pitch , however, Boehner and his allies will have to defend the new gambit against critics who don’t want to spend the money, don’t see the urgency in extending the trust fund or don’t like the idea of passing another short-term fix.  

“This ‘spend now, pay later’ bailout is not serious,” said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler. “The Republican-controlled House should not succumb to the Obama administration’s reckless rhetoric.”  

“We certainly need to keep the economy going and transportation moving — and those are bipartisan goals,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee member Tom Petri, R-Wis. “But we are playing games with the budget by using offsets unrelated to transportation and others that will not be realized until 2024 to fund our current needs. That only kicks the can down the road. At some point we need to tackle the issue head-on and get back to the goal of finding a long-term, self-sustaining financing plan for our nation’s infrastructure.”  



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