Out of Control Policy Blog

Congress Will Just Figure Out How to Pay for $500 Billion Transportation Bill Later

Bob mentioned this in his post yesterday, but it is worth repeating: Reps. Oberstar and Mica put forth a blueprint for a $450-500 billion transportation bill, but left out the not-so-small detail of how they plan to pay for a near doubling of transportation spending at the very same time that the Highway Trust Fund is (yet again) nearly broke and the gas tax has run out of gas.

This quote from Rep. Oberstar in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune offers great insight into how the federal government has run up trillions of dollars in debt:

The cost is about $450 billion over six years, nearly a doubling of the nation's current investment in infrastructure. But Oberstar's blueprint, still under construction, is silent on the key question of where the money will come from.

"What is it going to cost to deliver this? That's an issue you have to put off till the end," Oberstar said of the bill, which he expects to roll out in the coming days. "You can't talk investments and dollar amounts until you have something to show the public."

Wait...put off how to pay for it until the end?

Just the other day President Obama suggested that “pay-as-you-go” should be federal law. "Paying for what you spend is basic common sense," Obama said. "Perhaps that's why, here in Washington, it's been so elusive."

Setting aside all of the massive debt-financed spending since President Obama took office, let’s assume for the moment that he actually believes the country should use PAYGO going forward. Here we are a week later and Congress wants to come up with half a trillion dollars worth of transportation spending and “put off till the end” figuring out how to pay for it.

In the real world of no free lunches, benefits come at a cost. Infrastructure is expensive. As much as policymakers would like to shift the public's attention to the projects they are championing, it's naive to assume that the increasingly bailout and deficit-weary public will buy into any "plan" offering no substance about how to pay for a $500 billion wish-list. The "trust us, we'll figure it out later" approach isn't going to pass Americans' smell test, I suspect.

For example, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds Americans are upset about the federal deficit

"Almost 60 percent say that President Obama and Congress should worry more about keeping the deficit down — even if that means it will take longer for the economy to recover."

A lot more than 60 percent of Americans would be outraged if Congress were to try to raise the gas tax during a recession to pay for this highway bill, though by most accounts, that idea seems to be dead in the water in the White House and most corners of Congress. 

So what about tapping the roughly $180 billion in private infrastructure capital that's looking for projects to invest in? As Shirley Ybarra noted yesterday, the blueprint seems to embrace transportation public-private partnerships on one hand while it tries to give the Feds authority micromanage and control them on the other. The latter will certainly have the effect of usurping states' authority, tying their hands and decreasing their flexibilty to solve their own problems. Not to mention the new layers of political risk that would be superimposed over a public-private partnership market already burdened by political risk, which tends to drive up costs and drive out competition. This isn't exactly a reassuring sign when the overarching goal is to expand the revenue pie.

Now the proposed National Infrastructure Bank may offer a partial solution (if properly set up and structured, an issue for another day). But even there, no one on Capitol Hill is talking about capitalizing it to anywhere near the level it would take to put a dent in $450+ billion in new spending both parties (through Oberstar and Mica) are calling for in this highway bill blueprint.

So all we're really left with here are more questions than answers on this "transformational" plan. What would have been truly transformational here would have been for the bill's sponsors to spend as much time thinking through the hard issues of funding as they did the politically easier issues of what their "vision" entails. Without this due diligence, I suspect Americans will view this as yet more Congressional snake oil, which isn't exactly helpful when it's more critical than ever to build broad public support for increased infrastructure investment that is focused on improving mobility and helping the economy.

» Reason's Transportation Research and Commentary

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform

« Trying to Copy Spain's High-Speed… | Main | The Oberstar Transportation Bill Is… »

Comments to "Congress Will Just Figure Out How to Pay for $500 Billion Transportation Bill Later":

Vincenza A. | July 1, 2009, 2:13pm | #

Hello Friend,
maybe you don't think of picking up toys as anything special, well
for me is a learning experience and not
able to speak or walk and my parents always carry me.
I am 4 years old, a little boy from Italy, my name is Mattia
Salamone, I have been diagnosed with
Cerebral Palsy & West Syndrome.

I need various intensive therapies, not possible in Italy,
reccomended and offered in Broward
County and are very costly.
Please help my parents with a donation so that I can learn to be
independent and play with other
children, and you will get lots of kisses from the Angel in Heaven.
Thank you so much.



Bank of America
account Number: 8980 2462 5398
Swift code: BOFAUS3N
ABA: 026 009593

telephone number contact: 954-347-3191 "Vincenza Auciello".

Eric Pearson | October 12, 2009, 10:42am | #

Democratic Party - Democratic Reform Party

As Democrats of the Democratic Party, we join together in seeking reform within the Democratic Party.

Many Democrats already know their elected representatives within the Democratic Party are no longer following in the time-honored footsteps laid down by the founding fathers of our great Nation.

More importantly, we as democrats see our elected representatives within the Democratic Party abandoning the values and principles as set forth within the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

At the very least, many of our elected representatives within the Democratic Party are no longer abiding to the sole reason the Democratic-Republican Party was founded by Thomas Jefferson - "Strong state governments with a weaker federal government."

This is only the beginning of our problems as Democrats, for many of our elected representatives within the Democratic Party have clearly set their own agendas over the members of the Democratic Party, our Nation, and the American people. Overall, many of them no longer think of themselves as being our elected representatives, and now refer to themselves as leaders in the true form of tyrants.

Most Democrats already know their pleas are only being answered by repeated insult and injury by their elected representatives within the Democratic Party. Despite this, we as Democrats can restore control of the Democratic Party back to the party members. All we need to do is cut off donations to the local, state, and national headquarters of the Democratic Party, and to make sure the donations are made directly to worthy and honorable Democratic Party candidates.

So spread the message to everyone of our fellow Democrats, for the Democrat members are taking back control of the Democratic Party. Also, please don't forget to contact and request the Unions and other outside contributors to follow our lead as patriotic Americans. Thank you!

Web site: http://www.democraticreformparty.com

Out of Control Policy Archives