Yesterday evening, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee’s “big four” (Democrats Barbara Boxer and Tom Carper, and Republicans David Vitter and John Barrasso) released their draft highway bill reauthorization proposal. It basically calls for six more years of the status quo, with some nice gimmicks thrown in for good measure. You can read the full thing here. There’s also this handy summary for people who don’t have too much time on their hands.
As was expected, EPW’s proposal has been met with crickets. Observers knew it would fail to address the core problem facing the Highway Trust Fund: that Congress spends more money than it takes in. Not only that, but it failed to include President Obama’s excellent suggestion of removing the present federal prohibition on states tolling their own Interstate segments. The Senate Finance Committee handles surface transportation reauthorization revenue, so Boxer and Vitter will now wait for their colleagues to produce about $100 billion in needed bailout money out of thin air.
Both Congress and the administration have refused to either restore the Highway Trust Fund to long-term solvency or wind down the federal programs. This has resulted in tens of billions of dollars in bailouts over the past decade, with many more on the way if Senate EPW and the White House have their way. Even though members of Congress are scared to death of actual solutions, expect big fights over largely trivial, provincial policy matters. We now eagerly await the House of Representatives’ Highway Trust Fund bailout proposal.