Bipartisan Accord on Highways and College Loans Has Us Longing for More

Posted on July 3, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

By Turner GPA Staff

With its penchant for taking negotiations right down to the wire, Congress on Friday reached a compromise deal to reauthorize three federal programs—student loans, highways, and flood insurance.

As the Fourth of July recess neared, federal lawmakers, in an unusual display of cooperation for this Congress, were able to put aside their differences and approved legislation that avoided staggering loan increases for poor and middle-class college students, saved highway and transportation construction jobs and extended flood insurance protection to American homeowners and businesses. The Surface Transportation Act of 2012 now awaits the president’s signature.

Here are the bill’s key numbers:

  • 7.4 million college students were spared from having the interest rates on their federally subsidized Stafford loans double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent
  • 5.6 million households and businesses will remain covered by federal flood insurance programs
  • 1.8 million jobs, mostly highway and transit construction jobs, threatened by the cut-off of federal funding for transportation projects were saved
  • 1 million new jobs will be created by using federal loan guarantees to leverage private sector investment to build and repair roads, bridges, rail and other infrastructure projects

To reach an agreement both the Republicans and Democrats gave up on some of their demands, including the GOP’s push to tie passage of the bill to the approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. Likewise, the Republican’s were able to wring environmental protection concessions from the Democrats, including the relaxing of rules pertaining to environmental impact studies required for federally financed highway projects.

The bill would spend more than $100 billion on highway, mass transit and other transportation projects over the next two years, but fails to grapple with the question of how to pay for transportation projects after that. The federal 18.4 cent-a-gallon gas tax and the 24.4 cent-a-gallon diesel tax has fallen woefully short for years in paying for highway and transit programs and have forced lawmakers to dip into the national treasury to the tune of $34.5 billion since 2008 to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent. In failing to find a long-term solution to this serious funding issue – such as raising the gas and diesel tax, which haven’t been increased since 1993 – lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have simply pushed the problem down the road.

Likewise, Congress cobbled together short-term reprieves for student loans – a one-year deal – and for the federal flood insurance program, which took on massive debt in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Both programs are in need of serious reforms that lawmakers simply didn’t address.

That didn’t stop a torrent of Internet boasting by members of Congress seeking to take a share of the credit, even if they failed to mention that little has been done over the last  two years to put Americans back to work.

Still, we take heart in the remarks of one senator made shortly after Congress approved the highway and college loan legislation: “We have a bill that is supported by conservatives and liberals, progressives and moderates. I think this is a great day.”

We can only hope that Congress will sometime in the not too distant future finally get around to giving us more of these “great days” that all Americans fully deserve and expect.

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at www.turnergpa.com.

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President Signs a 90-Day Extension of Highway Bill

Posted on April 10, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

By Carl Chancellor

On March 30, President Barack Obama signed a last-minute, three-month extension of a highway bill that allows the fed to continue collecting the 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax and prevents the shutdown of countless transportation projects.

Getting the bill to the president’s desk, however, was an extremely bumpy ride with more than its share of hairpin political twists and turns.

House Republicans and Democrats, playing what has become the all too familiar game of chicken, battled right up to the deadline set for the transportation bill to expire. Democrats wanted swift approval of a two-year, $109 billion transportation measure that passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote. Republicans in the House, however, didn’t like the bill’s funding mechanism and were instead pushing a five-year $260 billion alternative measure, which would have been paid for in part by oil drilling royalties and from taxes and fees linked to the controversial Keystone Pipeline project that most Democrats oppose.

Such bitter partisan rancor over the transportation bill is a sign-of-the political times. In the past Republicans and Democrats had little problem agreeing on transportation legislation due to highway projects being seen as good for business and creating jobs. Further, since every congressional district has roads, bridges, and railroads, everyone benefited.

Extensions to the highway bill have been routine, in fact, this was the ninth time that Congress has hammered out stop-gap legislation to extend the highway authorization bill, which expired in 2009. The 90-day reprieve means that Congress is going to have to wrestle with this issue again and some how reach an agreement on a final long-term transportation bill before the July 4 recess. Although, what is most likely to happen is that they will enact yet another extension.

The problem with “kicking the can down the road” is that the money needed to keep the nation’s transportation system running just isn’t there. Gas tax revenues, which fuel the Highway Trust Fund, have been falling steadily for years as Americans drive less and cars continue to become more fuel efficient. The last time the federal gas tax was raised was in 1993, which has meant the Trust Fund has run into funding problems over the years. Rather than seriously deal with the funding shortfall, Congress has stuck its finger in the dike and has juggled federal dollars around. Most recently, lawmakers dipped into general funds and stimulus money to keep the money flowing to road and bridge project. But funding gimmicks won’t solve the problem. By 2018 the Highway Trust Fund is predicted to be $80 billion in the red.

Some in Congress have suggested shifting the responsibility for our transportation infrastructure to the states. Where already cash strapped states would find the money is anyone’s guess. Clearly, the most obvious solution to the problem is to raise the gas tax. But even floating such an idea, particularly in a presidential election year, is political hara-kiri.

So in a matter of weeks Americans will again head down an all too familiar road—the same nasty, rutted, bone jarring road we’ve been forced to travel down to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, extend payroll tax breaks, and fund the FAA. Frankly, American voters are tired of the ride.

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at www.turnergpa.com.

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For Transportation Bill, Gridlock

Posted on March 6, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

By Scott Orr

It’s difficult to decide which transportation related cliché to invoke to describe the status of the multibillion-dollar transportation bill pending before congress – derailed, on a bumpy road, off-course, train wreck, stalled, and gridlocked are a few that come to mind.

At the end of last week, Senate Democrats sounded confident they would be able to gain passage of a measure that passed committees in bipartisan fashion. Obstruction by Republicans, who are loath to hand Democrats anything resembling a victory, would be politically risky in this election year given that millions of jobs depend on passage.

But in the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is again having difficulty corralling the troops, with Tea Party conservatives demanding huge spending cuts. At this point, Boehner may be considering spurning the Tea Party members and instead forming a coalition with Democrats to get the job done.

Already, Boehner has been forced to abandon an ambitious $260 billion, five-year bill in favor of a more manageable 18-month package. But the House needs to take swift action, since the existing measure expires at the end of the month.

Helping to sink the House GOP bill was bipartisan opposition from urban lawmakers angered at the bill’s proposed end to the practice of dedicating 20 percent of highway trust fund dollars to support public transit, which has been done for the past three decades.

The bill in question is a reauthorization package that dictates how the Department of Transportation (DOT) spends money for highways, transit and other needs. The funding comes in large part from the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents a gallon.

The last five-year authorization package expired in 2009, but DOT programs have been kept alive through temporary extensions. The latest of these is the measure that expires at the end of March.

We agree with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican House member, who last week called for a political cease fire on the transportation measure. The critical infrastructure improvements and jobs it provides, he said, are too important to be threatened by election-year grandstanding.

“Take the politics out of transportation,” LaHood said in urging members of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials to rally behind the Democratic Senate’s two-year, $109 billion transportation bill.

“It’s not a bad place to start. It’s comprehensive way to start. The money’s there. It’s paid for. No excuses. We’ll pass it and put our friends and neighbors to work.”

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at www.turnergpa.com.

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Obama’s Double Dare on Highway/Transit

Posted on January 25, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

By: TurnerGPA Staff

“Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home,” Obama said last night in his SOTU.

A senior administration official has confirmed the White House wants roughly $200 billion of the war savings to be used to pay for a long-term highway/transit reauthorization bill.

This won’t help solve the deficit problem because it takes funds that would have been spent (borrowed) on military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and redirects them to transportation. But it would solve the bookkeeping problem Congress faces in trying to pass a reauthorization within the constraints of the Budget Control Act. It may require a waiver of the House rule against any further transfers of general revenue to the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), however.

In the meantime, Senate Finance Committee staff indicate they may have identified as much as $17 billion that could be used to help underwrite the costs of the Boxer 2-year Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) reauthorization. As usual, they are not offering any details.

The Senate Banking/Housing/Urban Affairs Committee plans to mark up the transit title of the Boxer bill next week.

The following are rumors, but are certainly worth noting.

Senator Boxer has been in discussions this week with the White House about how to move her 2-year highway/transit bill. President Obama’s promise in the SOTU to streamline project processing through Executive Branch action to revise transportation regulations could help deflect criticism that the Boxer bill won’t last long enough for its proposed process improvements to be implemented.

It is possible the Senate Finance Committee may mark up the revenue title for the Boxer bill as soon as next week, although this has not been confirmed. That would claim offsets for the Boxer bill before final choices are made about how to pay for the payroll tax/UI/Medicare doc fix bill. The Senate Finance revenue title could include language that would apply some of the war savings to transportation. The White House wants a longer reauthorization timeframe, but will settle for the Boxer 2-yr if that’s all that can pass.

Republicans are not likely to support action to apply war savings to anything other than deficit reduction or other defense programs, but such action by Senate Finance would put pressure on the House to come up with a viable alternative to pay for the Mica 5-year proposal.

The President indicated he wanted to use half the peace dividend to rebuild America, but so far that is being interpreted to mean solely surface transportation – not Clean Water Act or other infrastructure.

Turner GPA is a leading D.C.-based national lobbying and government affairs firm dedicated to delivering cutting edge policy advocacy for the manufacturing, defense, aerospace, health and energy industries. Members of our professional policy team can be reached at (202) 466-2511. We are also on the Web at www.turnergpa.com.

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