WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, spoke on the Senate Floor this afternoon on the failure of Congress to act last night in order to protect 17,000 American jobs, including 1,350 in Oklahoma.
Senator Inhofe's Full Speech As Prepared for Delivery
At midnight last night, the highway program and the American people suffered a major loss because of a calculated decision that politics should trump common sense. I have often thought that Congressional inaction is a good thing, but in this case we have failed miserably to do our jobs. As a result we were unable to pass the 3-month extension of the highway program that Senator Boxer and I were pushing. Included in the Senate's extension was a provision to prevent a rescission of $8.7 billion in highway money. Our failure to work together to fix the rescission before midnight yesterday has resulted in the following:
-Up to 17,000 jobs could be lost because states may be forced to cancel $500 million worth of projects.
-We are now stuck with a 30-day extension that cuts highway spending by 25% compared to 2009. The 3 month extension would have funded 2010 equal to 2009.
-The short length of this extension is now going to create uncertainty and erratic funding for states, who are going to delay projects and gear down the letting of contracts, essentially ending the construction season early as we head into the winter months.
I was on the phone with Gary Ridley, Oklahoma's Transportation Secretary, and he gave me the impact of our failure to act on my state of Oklahoma. He said Oklahoma would normally receive $53.6 million in federal money, but instead will likely only receive $36 million. They have a $28 million bond obligation, which leaves them with less than $10 million for letting projects, instead of $26 million. This means they will likely only be able to let 3-4 projects in November, the first letting of the new fiscal year, and none in December.
Here is the real world impact of what we do here. This will be devastating for construction workers in Oklahoma and will be repeated in every state. This may come as a surprise to those in the other body who have said that this will have no effect on states.
I have been trying to pass a long-term extension with a rescission fix since July. At that point opposition by the Congressmen and Senators from both sides of the aisle prevented taking care of the problem.
Our attempts to set a prudent length for the Highway extension has been plagued by some people's unrealistic expectation that we can complete a 6 year transformational highway bill and plug a $150 billion shortfall in the next 3 months if we "keep the pressure" on. After twelve short term extensions during the development of SAFETEA in 2003-2005, I have learned the hard way, that strategy does not work. Instead, because States are uncertain of the federal funding stream, they hold back on letting contracts which means less work is getting done and that translates in to fewer employment opportunities.
Taking up an extension is always problematic. Unfortunately, some view this as an opportunity to make a point. There are those on my side of the aisle who won't hesitate to hold the entire highway program hostage in order to enumerate yet again, their distaste for Congressionally directed spending on highway projects. At the same time, the Majority Leadership has know for months this was coming but was unwilling to force the issue and take the time to have votes on this important issue. This could have been resolved weeks ago if they would have been invested in it.
Fixing the rescission would increase the deficit by just under $500 million. The other body wanted an offset for this, and they were right-so did I. I think the most reasonable offset is the unused stimulus funds. I've stated all along that there was not enough in there that actually stimulated the economy, such as funding for road construction.
According to CBO's most recent analysis (done a month ago), only $85 billion of stimulus funds have actually been spent. Furthermore, less than 60 percent of the stimulus funds have even been obligated, leaving $150 billion in unobligated balances. Money being unobligated means that they do not have a plan for how they are going to spend it and are nowhere near doing so. This is clearly not stimulating the economy.
It makes sense to move a fraction of this money to something that will actually save jobs, stimulate the economy, and give us something at the end of the day for our money. It is the perfect source to pay for fixing the rescission.
In fact, Senator Vitter's approach from last July was to actually give President Obama's OMB the discretion to pick which stimulus funds would be cut. So they could cut the things that are not working or were just Congressional pet programs. This is simply cutting the worst 1 percent of the stimulus-something everybody should be able to agree to, whether or not you voted for the stimulus.
But the other side blocked this approach, in a show of partisanship. So Senator Boxer and I brokered a bipartisan agreement to use the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP, as an offset.
What this meant is that we would reduce TARP authority by $8.7 billion, which would reduce the deficit by $4.35 billion dollars according to the CBO. Putting aside politics, penciling this out, shows that $4.35 billion in deficit reduction minus the cost of the rescission, $500 million, means a deficit savings of just under $4 billion. I thought this was a good thing. We would preserve up to 17,000 jobs and reduce the deficit.
Clearly a win-win solution. We reduce funding for a program that was a bad idea from inception. I opposed it initially, but some of my colleagues supported it thinking the government buying so-called toxic assets was necessary. But then when this money was given to unaccountable bureaucrats, it was used for buying insurance and car companies and bailing out banks.
But some of my conservative colleagues opposed this approach because they want to use TARP only for debt reduction. As I just pointed out, the compromise Senator Boxer and I were pushing would have resulted in a net reduction to the deficit of about $4 billion dollars. Even as I say this, I honestly don't understand their opposition. However, Republican members who objected to TARP told me they would not object to using stimulus, unfortunately members on the other side refused a second time to do this.
The thing that is really puzzling to me is my colleagues on the other side of the aisle were trying to make political gains by misstating that some of my colleagues on this side were the only ones objecting to the Boxer/Inhofe solution. The reality is there was at least one objection on their side to this approach, so we could not have proceeded even if there had been no objections on my side. This is just another example of people caring more about scoring political points over helping the American people.
The real irony is that while Senator Boxer and I were furiously trying to get this taken care of last night, the other body was issuing a press release criticizing the Senate for trying to save thousands of American jobs. Even after 22 years in the House and Senate, I am still amazed how out of touch Washington is.
The other body used a lack of offsets as an excuse for inaction. With the way money is spent around Washington these days, I find it ridiculous that they were unwilling to find an offset. Their leadership is willing to support a trillion dollar health bill and far in excess of another trillion for the bank bailouts and so-called stimulus bills. It is all a matter of priorities-misplaced priorities I would argue. The House simply left it to the Senate to save these jobs-which we obviously were unable to do.
Well, I found 2 very appropriate offsets....and because politics trumps doing what is right for the country, we failed. I find that to be the most upsetting thing.
Finally, I would like to thank Senator Boxer, Secretary LaHood, and the countless others on both sides of the aisle that worked with me to try to fix this problem.