Latest highway bill news: Senate’s hearing, Sec. Foxx’s ‘to hell with politics,’ House’s Transportation 2.0 bill

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Updated Jan 31, 2015
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaking at the Senate’s Wednesday-held hearing on highway funding. Photo from The HillTransportation Secretary Anthony Foxx speaking at the Senate’s Wednesday-held hearing on highway funding. Photo from The Hill

Highway funding legislation has seen a flurry of activity in the last 10 days.

For starters, Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) hinted last week they were close to unveiling a proposal for a highway bill.

Then there was Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) proposal this week for a five-year, $1 trillion transportation infrastructure bill.

ATA this week also sent a letter to Congress and unveiled an infographic pushing for a fuel tax increase to fund U.S. highways.

And Wednesday, Congress continued the trend: The Senate’s Environmental and Public Works committee held a hearing on the matter, in which Sec. Anthony Foxx gave a passionate plea for a long-term transportation funding bill (“To hell with politics,” he said. “In order for the system to be as good as the American people, we must do something dramatic.”) and some House Democrats filed a six-year funding bill dubbed Transportation 2.0.

Congress must pass a highway funding measure before May 31, or the Highway Trust Fund will run dry.

At the Senate hearing, Foxx touted the White House’s GROW AMERICA Act, submitted to Congress by the President and Foxx last year. He also chastised Congress for failing to pass anything longer than a two-year bill in the last 10 years. And only twice has it done that: The time between the bills has been supplemented with short-term extensions — sometimes as short as just three months — of already-existing highway funding laws.

“What we received in response [to the GROW AMERICA Act] was a ten-month extension with flat funding, which while averting a catastrophe falls short of meeting the country’s needs,” Foxx said. ‘As a former mayor, I can tell you what these short-term measures are doing to America…literally killing their will to build,” he told the committee.

The GROW AMERICA Act was a $302 billion proposal that would use corporate tax reform for funding. The bill, however, was essentially DOA, and its chance for action in the new Republican-controlled Congress likely is worse than in the previous Congress.

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The House’s Transportation 2.0 bill is a six-year, $170 billion funding measure that would direct $150 billion into the Highway Trust Fund, moving away from using taxes on gasoline and diesel to fund the HTF, which has been the case since the establishment of the Fund in the 1950s.

It would also put $50 billion in an infrastructure bank that would be used to draw in private investors.

“America’s infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, re-launched and reimagined,” says Rep. John Delaney, who filed the bill. “To create jobs, compete globally and improve our quality of life, building a 21st century national infrastructure should be our top economic priority. The Infrastructure 2.0 Act is the new policy solution we need to break the legislative gridlock that’s created clogged highways, crowded runways and costly delays for entrepreneurs and workers.”