Inhofe Urges Congress To Put Partisan Politics Aside To Get Highway Extension Passed ASAP
March 2, 2010

Contact:  

Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov (202) 224-9797

David Lungren David_Lungren@epw.senate.gov (202) 224-5642

Inhofe Urges Congress To Put Partisan Politics Aside To Get Highway Extension Passed ASAP

"As a result of irresponsible behavior of both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, the Federal Highway Administration shut its doors on Monday furloughing 2,000 employees, putting projects across the country at risk, and stopping the highway program from paying states the money they are owed."

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, today spoke on the Senate Floor to urge Congress to pass an extentension of the Federal Highway Program. Through his leadership position, Senator Inhofe has been sounding the alarm on Congressional inaction for months. Today he called on his colleagues to put partisan politics aside and pass a highway extension that will help get money back to the States. The ramifications to Oklahoma are significant if Congress does not act.

"I can't express how frustrated I am with Washington politics," Senator Inhofe said. "As a result of irresponsible behavior of both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, the Federal Highway Administration shut its doors on Monday furloughing 2,000 employees, putting projects across the country at risk, and stopping the highway program from paying states the money they are owed. I have been in constant communication with Gary Ridley, Oklahoma's Transportation Secretary, who flew here this week to help resolve this crisis and is submitting testimony for the record.  He told me that if this is not worked out by Friday, there will be very serious consequences for Oklahoma.  Each State's ability to continue to fund their program is different; I understand some have already shut their programs down.  Regardless, unless we resolve this soon, it will eventually mean stopping ongoing projects and postponing all new projects-putting this year's construction season in jeopardy. I understand some Democrats are trying to make political hay out of this, but I want to set the record straight.

Full Speech as Prepared for Delivery

March 02, 2010

I can't express how frustrated I am with Washington politics.  As a result of irresponsible behavior of both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, the Federal Highway Administration shut its doors on Monday furloughing 2,000 employees, putting projects across the country at risk, and stopping the highway program from paying states the money they are owed.   

I have been in constant communication with Gary Ridley, Oklahoma's Transportation Secretary, who flew here this week to help resolve this crisis. He told me that if this is not worked out by Friday, there will be very serious consequences for Oklahoma.  Each State's ability to continue to fund their program is different; I understand some have already shut their programs down.  Regardless, unless we resolve this soon, it will eventually mean stopping ongoing projects and postponing all new projects-putting this year's construction season in jeopardy.   

I understand some Democrats are trying to make political hay out of this, but I want to set the record straight. 

A lone Republican Senator is being singled out for the blame, when in reality there is plenty of blame to go around.  Last week, the Senate passed a jobs bill that included a number of tax cuts and a long-term extension of the highway program.  House Democrats were divided on the bill and their leadership couldn't pass the bill.  Given the chaos in their caucus, they passed a 30-day extension of the highway program late last week.  Because this 30-day extension would add about $10 billion to the outrageous $13.2 trillion national debt, a Republican Senator said he'd only agree to it if it was offset.  Senate Democrats refused to offset the package.  Nobody was willing to back down and we find ourselves in this situation today. 

Not only is there ample blame to go around on why Congress allowed the highway program and FHWA to shut down, I think there is equal blame to go around on why it has taken us 6 months to pass a long-term extension. 

We tried on numerous occasions to pass extensions. This should not have come as a surprise to anyone...Senator Boxer and I have been sounding the alarm on this one since last July.   

We learned in July that there are a couple of Senators who are frankly opposed to the federal highway program and want to see it underfunded, as has been the case this fiscal year.   

On the last day of the fiscal year before the 2005 highway bill expired, Senator Boxer and I attempted to pass a long-term extension of the highway program, but unfortunately we were not successful.  The same group of Senators that oppose the highway program demanded the bill be offset.  They suggested unobligated stimulus funds, but Democrats objected.  The Chairman and I were working hard to find an offset.  Barbara got Democratic Leadership to agree to use TARP as an offset.  Unfortunately, many Republicans and at least one Democratic Senator objected to this offset.  As a result we were stuck with a 30-day extension on the Continuing Resolution that funded the program $1 billion a month lower than 2009 levels. 

It was clear the only way to get a long-term highway extension done was for Senator Reid to dedicate a week of floor time to overcome the objections of the 2 or 3 Republicans that oppose the highway program.  To that end, all of the Chairmen and Ranking members of the Committees involved in the transportation bill (EPW, Banking, and Commerce) sent a bipartisan letter to Senator Reid pointing out the problem we were facing and asking for floor time to overcome the objections. 

Senator Reid ignored this request until two weeks ago when he abandoned the bipartisan Baucus-Grassley jobs bill in favor of his own bill that included a long-term highway extension.  I'd like to point out that this maneuver cost the highway extension the bulk of Republican support.  I'd like to caution that it is very dangerous to turn a bipartisan issue like this into a partisan one.

And because the highway bill was included with a number of other issues, it got caught up in House Democratic and 2nd stimulus bill politics unrelated to the highway program.  This just reinforces it should have been done as a stand-alone measure. 

Just to highlight how much a repeat this all is, I'm going to conclude by reading a few quotes from a Tulsa World editorial from October 5th of LAST YEAR. 

The article is aptly titled "What the ...?: Congress scuttles road funding."

The editorial begins:

"What's up with those geniuses in Congress? First they scurry around to get massive stimulus funding in the pipeline in an effort to quickly jump-start the economy, and then they fiddle around and let regular transportation funding that would further aid the recovery lapse. Not a good recipe for ensuring that the recovery will continue."

The editorial ended with:

"Inhofe blamed the funding snafu on politics, which comes as no surprise. Apparently it was just too much to ask of our leaders to put politics aside for once in favor of rescuing the economy and thousands of jobs."

Related:

Tulsa World Editorial: What the ...?: Congress scuttles road funding

OKLAHOMA HIT HARD BY BUSINESS AS USUAL IN WASHINGTON

Lost Highway Funds Result of Washington Inaction 

Inhofe Outraged Congress Fails to Act To Protect 17,000 American Jobs

Inhofe Warns Thousands of Oklahoma Jobs at Stake 

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