Can the ‘Do-Nothing’ Congress Invest in Infrastructure?

Emily Foster
Can the ‘Do-Nothing’ Congress Invest in Infrastructure?

This year’s 113th Congress has been infamous for being unproductive, due to lackluster performance and extreme partisanship. While the House plans to adjourn for the year on December 13, members are trying to squeeze in their last bill proposals. One step towards wrapping up the year with at least some bipartisan progress would be to pass HR 3636.

Introduced to the House on December 3 by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), the Update, Promote, and Develop America’s Transportation Essentials (UPDATE) Act would address the country’s dire necessity for infrastructure funding. Blumenauer says that “every credible independent report” indicates that the United States is not meeting the demands of our “stressed and decaying” infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers releases a report card every year, with letter grades for our country’s infrastructure system. This year, America’s overall GPA is a “D+.” The ASCE cites “structurally deficient bridges,” “aging locks” on inland waterways, and the fact that 32% of America’s roads are in “poor condition,” among the many reasons for such a poor grade. The ASCE estimates that the U.S. should invest “at least” $500 billion in our surface transportation system by 2020 in order to meet our basic economic and transportation needs. The ASCE also estimates that surface transportation in the country needs more than $2 trillion of investment in order to stay economically competitive.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that after the end of Fiscal year 2014, annual General Fund transfers of about $15 billion would be necessary to maintain current Highway Trust Fund spending levels. In addition, the CBO also estimates that funding for “surface transportation projects where the federal benefit outweighs the cost,” will require allotting another $83 billion each year to the Highway Transit Trust Funds.

But with insufficient funding, this will most definitely be unattainable. This is why HR 3636 is so extremely important.

Rep. Blumenauer’s bill directly addresses these problems and proposes one main solution: phasing in a 15 cent per gallon tax increase over the next three years on gasoline and diesel. According to Blumenauer, Congress “hasn’t dealt seriously” with the funding issue for 20 years.

Rep. Blumenauer describes how the gas tax used to be an “efficient road user fee,” but due to inflation and increased fuel efficiency, a relevant correlation between what road users pay and their benefits no longer exists. According to the Rep. Blumenauer, “the average motorist is paying about half as much per mile as they did in 1993.” The last time an increase was placed on the gas tax was in 1993 during the Clinton administration. The federal gas tax was raised by 4.3 cents (18.4 cents per gallon) as a part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.

Rep. Blumenauer also believes that this is a bipartisan issue, and that increasing the gas tax should not be stalled by partisan conflict. The gas tax provides the funds Democrats want, with a fee which has historically been acceptable to Republicans. This includes President Ronald Reagan, who actually increased the gas tax by five cents per gallon in 1982.

HR 3636 has a long list of notable supporters. At a press conference on Wednesday, representatives of many noteworthy organizations gave statements supporting the bill and the Rep. Blumenauer’s efforts.

AAA supports the bill. Kathleen Bower, the organization’s Vice President of Public Affairs stated that the country “desperately needs additional funding for infrastructure,” and that there are “no better means than the fuel tax.”

Many supporters of the bill also note it will not only address the infrastructure problem, but that it will also boost the creation of desperately needed jobs. Terry O’Sullivan, the President of the Laborers’ International Union of North America stated that the bill would create jobs and opportunity for “tens of thousands of our nation’s workers and their families.”

Right now, there are more than 700,000 construction workers who are unemployed, and the bill would most definitely create jobs that would help boost the overall economic status of the country. O’Sullivan believes that the bill is a “responsible way to begin addressing the infrastructure crisis in our country.”

Additionally, supporters of the bill agree that it should not be a partisan issue. John Robert Smith, chair of Transportation for America, and the former Republican mayor of Meridian, MS, said that he believes the UPDATE act “takes the important step” of ensuring that American communities will have a “strong federal partner” as they invest in their future. He believes that the bill is something that both parties must agree on. Larry Willis of the AFL-CIO stated that the bill is “virtually what everyone agrees what must be done.”

Rep. Blumenauer believes that the tax has not been raised in 20 years  because it is unpopular, and that “everyone wants someone else to do it.” Blumenauer wrapped up the press conference saying that this bill is “not about a gas tax,” but rather about “paying for what we use and investing in the future.”

Members of the House should focus heavily on passing HR 3636 before December 13. With huge levels of support and extreme necessity, members need to look past party lines and pass a bill that most obviously benefits all Americans.

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