Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Full Committee hearing entitled, "Legislative Issues for Transportation Reauthorization."
Thursday, July 21, 2011 10:00 am
I'd like to start by commending Chairman Boxer. With her leadership and dedication, and the great work of Senators Baucus and Vitter, we have put together a really good highway bill. Anytime you are working on a bill this important, it is hard to reach a bipartisan compromise, and this is especially true in our current political environment. What we have achieved here is important for the nation.
It is so appropriate to have Secretary Ridley here with us today. I've often said that he is the best DOT Secretary in the nation. There is no person whose judgment I value more on these issues. I speak with him many times each month and I could not have negotiated this bill without him.
We must acknowledge that our proposal to fund the highway program at current levels would result in a $12 billion shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund. Before we proceed to mark up, I must insist that the Finance Committee has identified a bipartisan way of filling this hole. It is unwise to push an unfunded proposal to spend over $100 billion at the same time the nation is singularly focused on cutting trillions of dollars in spending. If we proceed before we have identified funding, we will lose Republican support and kill the bill for this Congress, doing irreparable harm in the process.
We are very fortunate to have the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Baucus, working so closely with us toward a bipartisan solution. I support his efforts and have been working behind the scenes to help him with Republicans.
As is the case with all compromises, nobody gets everything they want. Most notably, this bill does not go as far as I would like on project delivery and it doesn't have the so-called "livability" mandates the other side would have liked. What we do have, is a bill that can pass the Senate.
This bill includes many of the essential policy reforms that my colleagues and stakeholders have recommended. It consolidates the number of programs in SAFETEA from 87 to under 30. It gives states more flexibility, while focusing federal dollars on key outcomes. These changes will ensure that Americans get the most for their gas tax dollars. We have also made good progress expediting project delivery, including expanding categorical exclusions and imposing meaningful deadlines on federal resource agencies. Finally, the bill will include no earmarks or programs that only benefit a limited number of states.
I want to make it very clear that putting this off is not an option. We need to do a highway bill. A short term extension does not give states needed certainty and will either mean a cut of at least 34% in federal highway funding or a bailout of the Trust Fund in fiscal year 2013. Of equal importance, an extension will not include any of the important policy reforms in our bill.
I'd like to take a moment to point out to my colleagues that I have been calling for massive cuts to government spending for years now. I introduced the first bill to lower spending to 2008 levels. This call has been echoed by most proposals to rein in our out of control spending since then. But it is important to note that taking the highway program down to $27 billion would mean going below 2000 funding levels-a point far beyond what is being talked about for other, less critical programs.
This 34% cut would mean $200 million less each year for my state of Oklahoma than they currently receive. A recent editorial in the Oklahoman entitled "Cuts in highway funds would really hurt Oklahoma" discussed possible delays in critical projects if we go with the House number. This is going to be repeated in every state in the nation. The impact of that on jobs and the economy will be staggering.