Dems Push for Long-Term Highway Trust Fund Fix

Dems Push for Long-Term Highway Trust Fund Fix
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In a letter to Chairman Paul Ryan Thursday, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee called for renewed efforts to find a long-term funding solution for the Highway Trust Fund, which is due to run out of money at the end of the month. 

The letter, penned by committee ranking member Sander Levin and 14 other Democrats, lamented the number of past short-term fixes and called for hearings to find a more permanent solution. The fund finances infrastructure and highway projects across the country and is set to run dry on May 31 when the 10-month, $10.8-billion patch Congress passed last July ends. 

“There have now been 23 short-term extensions since the last six-year transportation bill expired in 2003,” the Democrats wrote. “These short-term extensions must stop.  We are calling for a long-term, six-year extension.” 

Ryan, in a breakfast with reporters last month, said he is working on a $10-billion plan to keep the fund running through the end of the year, giving time to work toward a long-term solution. The fund’s revenue source is the gas tax. Ryan and other Republicans have insisted the tax won’t be raised to solve the funding gap, even though it hasn’t been raised in two decades.

The Democrats also pointed out there have been no hearings on transportation funding in the Ways and Means Committee in the last two years, and called on Ryan to hold a committee hearing next month to consider options for funding the infrastructure products. They said the situation this year is “more urgent” than in the previous Congress.  

Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said there was nothing to announce on a potential hearing, but said, “It has been, and continues to be, the chairman’s goal to work toward a long-term solution for a highway bill."

A short-term patch has become increasingly likely as Congress inches closer to the deadline. Lawmakers are on recess the last week in May, and because the Senate will be taking up trade legislation and a potential reauthorization of the Patriot Act early next week, there is little time to consider a more enduring trust fund solution.  

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker told reporters earlier this week that “the writing is on the wall” for a short-term fix, which he called simply “kicking the can down the road.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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