The House Unveils Another Highway Bill, Still Doesn’t Know How to Pay For It

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

If it feels like you've seen this movie before, it's because we have.

A long-term highway funding bill (as well as a host of other appropriations bills) was abandoned over the Summer because the House and Senate could not agree on a way to pay for it, and House Republicans couldn't even agree on how to pay for it within their own caucus. As you may recall, some radical congressional Republicans even proposed that we defund the entire system.

The House has unveiled a new long-term 6-year highway funding bill, but there's a catch.

The measure would spend $261 billion on highways, $55 billion on transit and approximately $9 billion on safety programs, but only if Congress can come up with a way to pay for the final three years, according to a bipartisan group of Transportation Committee aides.

No, there's another catch.

Given the steadfast opposition to raising the gas tax to pay for it, Republicans must consider other alternatives.

Congress has turned to other areas of the federal budget to close the gap, and House aides said Friday that the chamber's Ways and Means Committee will have to identify a set of offsets for the new highway bill before it can move forward.

The new bill would include 3 years of "guaranteed" funding, leaving the next Congress with the duty of figuring out how to pay for the following 3 years. There's nothing "guaranteed" about the first 3 years of funding, however, because House Republicans still haven't figured out how to pay for that either.

I suppose it's possible Chairman Paul Ryan and other Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee will devise a way to pay for our nation's infrastructure that is acceptable to the Freedom Caucus, to House Democrats, to Grover Norquist, to Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats, but as Wayne Campbell would say 'yeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.'

There are clear reasons why the Republican-controlled Congress was not able to pass a long-term funding bill earlier this year and none of the factors or variables that prevented a long-term bill from passing have been dispelled.

The easiest, most logical way to pay for a long-term bill is to increase the federal gas tax by a few cents, but some Republicans have very different ideas about how to pay for it or not pay for it.

  • muselet

    Republican governance, ladies and gentlemen. Gaze upon it in awe.

    The traditional source for transportation funding is revenue that is collected by the federal gas tax, which is currently set at 18.4 cents per gallon. The gas tax brings about $34 billion per year, but the federal government typically spends about $50 billion annually on transportation projects.

    Okay, this is simple enough. 50÷34=1.47, near as makes no difference. 1.47×18.4=27.1, near as makes no difference. Therefore, for the gas tax to cover annual transportation spending, it should rise from 18.4 to 27.1¢/gal., or a rise of 8.7¢/gal. Heck, allow for some Kentucky windage and raise the gas tax 10¢/gal.

    Here in California, we see far greater price volatility than that every year, when every one of the refineries is mysteriously “down for maintenance.” Plus, that extra 10¢ means, for most drivers of most cars, less than a buck-fifty per fillup. Yes, that’s going to hurt poorer people, so use that extra 1.3¢/gal to give rebates to people earning below a certain amount.

    But of course that’s too simple and reasonable for the Rs.


  • I’m against regressive tax increases and a gas tax definitely hurts lower incomes more than higher, but Jebus, gas prices have fallen to historic lows. The economy, and even the poor, could easily take a few cents gas tax increase.

    Republicans seem to be against the very concept of civilization.

  • gescove

    A quick confab with Mr. Google shows the last increase in the Federal gasoline tax was back in 1993 and that the tax is not keyed to inflation (the average gallon of gas at the time cost $1.16). A tax increase is long overdue. Slightly higher gas taxes would have the added benefit of moderating consumption, thus saving untold millions of tons of CO2 emissions. But rather than take a sensible and straightforward approach, the Flying Monkey Caucus would prefer that old, or sick, or poor citizens get squeezed and suffer some more instead.

  • Aynwrong

    These people wouldn’t know how to organize a phone call.

    • muselet

      I like Charlie Pierce’s expression: They couldn’t organize a two-car funeral if you spotted them the hearse.


      • Aynwrong

        I love Charlie.

        • muselet

          The man does have a way with words.