Hatch Floor Speech on Highway Trust Fund
In Speech on Senate Floor, Utah Senator Says, “While it remains to be seen what shape that extension will take, Congress appears to be poised to pass legislation that will ensure that the Trust Fund will not face a shortfall and that states will be able to continue to plan and implement their transportation projects.”
WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor today, Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) outlined the similarities between the House-passed highway bill and the Senate Finance Committee proposal while reaffirming his commitment to securing a long-term solution for funding the Highway Trust Fund.
“Once the Highway Trust Fund has been funded by this bill we will need to start working on a long-term bill that will give the transportation community stability and predictability. We will need to be thoughtful in our approach and must consider every option to ensure that our nation’s infrastructure will be safe, efficient, and reliable into the future,” said Hatch.
Below is the text of Hatch’s full speech delivered on the Senate floor today:
Mr. President, today the Senate will vote on a short-term extension of funding for the Highway Trust Fund.
While it remains to be seen what shape that extension will take, Congress appears to be poised to pass legislation that will ensure that the Trust Fund will not face a shortfall and that states will be able to continue to plan and implement their transportation projects.
This is important.
As many have noted, passing this extension will preserve thousands of jobs and prevent disruption of a number of different highway projects.
It has taken a lot of work to get to this point. It has required the collective goodwill of members of both parties. And, it has meant compromise on both sides.
In the Senate Finance Committee, both Chairman Wyden and I worked together for weeks on a bipartisan highway funding extension.
At the outset of these negotiations, I stated that I hoped any agreement to extend the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund would contain spending cuts and reforms to go along with any revenues.
I fought hard on that point. But, in the end, that particular goal of mine – with one exception – had to be set aside in order for an agreement to be reached.
Of course, Mr. President, that is how we pass legislation. If everyone got everything they wanted out of a deal, it wouldn’t be a compromise.
While I maintain that a deal to extend funding for the Highway Bill should include reductions in spending, I am willing to continue that particular fight on another day.
After weeks of negotiations – some of which were very hard fought – we were able to come to an agreement on a funding bill that I believe both parties can support. That, in my view, is more important than any individual demand I may have had going into the discussions.
I’d like to take just a few minutes to talk about the specifics of our proposal.
Overall, our bill would provide nearly $11 billion in funding for the Highway Trust Fund, which is enough to extend its life into the middle of next year.
Of that total, $2.7 billion would be provided by pension smoothing.
I do have to say that I’m not a fan of using pension smoothing as a pay-for on the highway bill or in any other context for that matter. I’ve stated as much on the record numerous times.
However, we do face a funding emergency with regard to the Highway Trust Fund. That being the case, I was willing to compromise on that point.
Next, the bill provides an additional $2.9 billion by extending Customs User Fees.
Once again, in other contexts, I have been skeptical of using this tactic as a pay-for, mostly because it diverts necessary funding away from national trade priorities. However, we drafted the bill to ensure that enough money was left in future extensions to pay for things like the Generalized System of Preferences, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, and the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill, all of which are important to our nation’s trade agenda.
Our compromise bill also transfers $1 billion from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund to the Highway Trust Fund.
The remaining funds would be raised through a variety of tax compliance measures, all designed, not to raise taxes, but to realize revenues already owed to the Treasury.
The Finance Committee bill does include a provision designed to claw back orphan earmarks. The provision deals with earmarks included in previous highway bills.
I want to thank Senator Coburn for the idea that was the basis of this provision, though, in the end, we didn’t go as far as he or I would have liked.
Like I said, all told, our bill will provide nearly $11 billion in funding for the Highway Trust Fund and prevent the funding crisis that is on the horizon if Congress doesn’t act.
Once again, this legislation represents a bipartisan agreement between myself and Chairman Wyden. And, it was reported out of the Finance Committee by voice vote.
I want to thank Chairman Wyden for his willingness to reach across the aisle on this effort.
The Finance Committee has a long tradition of working on a bipartisan basis to provide funding for the Highway Trust Fund, and I’m glad that we’ve been able to continue that tradition with this legislation.
My only real regret is that we weren’t able to reach an agreement with Chairman Camp of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The two committees met on this over the July 4th recess. And, I believe both Chairman Camp and Chairman Wyden acted in good faith to try to reach an agreement. But, in the end, it just didn’t end up happening.
In my view, this is unfortunate. Had we been able to reach a bipartisan, bicameral solution on this issue at the outset, it would have helped to speed this process along.
Still, if you take a look at the bill the House passed earlier this month, you’ll find that it is similar to the legislation Chairman Wyden and I put together.
They provide virtually the same level of funding, so there’s not a substantive difference in the amount of time they’d extend the Trust Fund.
The major funding pieces – pension smoothing, customs user fees, and the LUST transfer – are all the same.
The primary difference is that the House bill does not include the tax compliance provisions.
Neither the House bill nor our bill is perfect, in my opinion. But, they both accomplish the same goal and they do so in a way that, under the circumstances, I think both Democrats and Republicans can and should support.
So, while some would say that we failed to reach an agreement on the Highway Bill, I think it’s pretty clear that there is a lot of agreement on these matters and that, one way or another, we’re going to get to a solution soon.
In the end, Chairman Camp produced what I think is a good bill. I think Chairman Wyden and I have done the same.
I’d vote in favor of either approach, because, like I said, they aren’t all that different from one another.
I just want to reiterate that the funding levels in the House bill and the Finance Committee bill – and therefore the length of the two extensions – are virtually the same.
That point is important as there is an effort – as evidenced by another amendment we’ll be voting on today – to put an artificial deadline on the extension. I gather from the statements made by proponents of this approach that they hope this amendment will somehow force Congress to reach an agreement on a long-term extension before the end of this year.
This effort is, in my view, misguided. And, I would hope that, given the fact that both the House of Representatives and the Senate Finance Committee have reached virtually the same conclusion on the length of the extension, Senators will think twice before voting to shorten it.
Ultimately, we all want to get to a long-term deal when it comes to the Highway Trust Fund. That desire is shared across both chambers and both parties.
I think we can get there. I just don’t think we need to impose an artificial deadline – one that would create a similar crisis to the one we’re facing now just a few months down the road – in order to do it.
There are other efforts out there that would seriously alter the trajectory of this bill. I just want to stress that what we’re working on is a short-term extension.
Once the Highway Trust Fund has been funded by this bill we will need to start working on a long-term bill that will give the transportation community stability and predictability. We will need to be thoughtful in our approach and must consider every option to ensure that our nation’s infrastructure will be safe, efficient, and reliable into the future.
But, before we discuss any fundamental changes to the structure of the Highway Trust Fund, we need to get this step out of the way first.
As I conclude, Mr. President, I’d like to take just a moment to once again commend Chairman Wyden for his efforts on this legislation. From the outset, he was willing to reach across the aisle on this bill and, as a result, the Finance Committee produced a viable bipartisan product.
His leadership in getting us to this point has been essential.
We’re very close to solving this problem and avoiding a crisis, Mr. President. We just need to get a bill over the finish line.
I hope we can do so in short order.
I yield the floor.