Concurrent Resolution on the Budget, Fiscal Year 2016—Conference Report—Continuedby Senator Jon Tester
Posted on 2015-05-05
TESTER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for
the quorum call be rescinded.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. TESTER. Mr. President, if we look into this Senate's agenda this month, we will see right away why so many folks are frustrated with Washington. We have now been considering an Iran bill for the last 2 weeks. It has huge bipartisan support, but it is tied up with amendments designed to kill the bill.
Today, the House and Senate Republicans bring forth a budget which reflects some of the worst ideas from each Chamber. Back in March, I raised concerns that the Senate budget put the interests of a few ahead of the future of this country, and that is still true today. The majority insists on spending billions of dollars overseas, and continues the fiction that this spending somehow doesn't count towards the deficit.
Under this budget, every penny proposed in the overseas contingency operations account--that is $187 billion--is going to be borrowed from China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and others. The majority once again favors tax breaks for the wealthiest among us over plans to strengthen the middle class--a middle class that has been the envy of the world. But under this blueprint, the $2,500 tax credit that helps students with the cost of tuition disappears. The benefit under the child tax credit gets smaller, and American middle-class folks get squeezed. The majority continues to reward companies that ship jobs overseas instead of creating jobs right here in the United States. This budget drastically cuts and ends Medicare as we know it, and it opens up the door to the sale of our public lands.
Finally, this budget fails to invest in basic infrastructure. In fact, it actually calls for a cut of over $200 billion in highway and transit funding over the next decade. The majority is pushing this proposal even though the highway bill funding expires on May 31, 2015. Now we are nearly out of time. In less than 4 weeks, just as millions of Americans will be getting on the road to enjoy summer vacations, road construction projects around this country will come to a screeching halt.
In my home State of Montana, the State department of transportation will delay nine projects this month due to Congress's failure to pass a long-term highway bill. Four projects that were scheduled to be awarded in April have been postponed to July and may be postponed indefinitely. Five more that were scheduled to be awarded next week will also be delayed. If Congress does another short-term extension, that list will get even longer. If we delay these projects even by a few weeks, we could miss the entire construction season in Montana, a northern-tier State. The snow will start falling, and the potholes will get bigger.
We already know that America's transportation infrastructure has been ignored for far too long. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, more than half of America's major roads and bridges are rated as poor to mediocre. In Montana, 40 percent of our roads are in need of repair or will need fixing soon. When our roads have potholes or can't handle the volume of cars and trucks, safety becomes an issue. Montana routinely leads the Nation in highway fatalities, and thousands of road fatalities each year are the result of bad road conditions.
As far as the economic impact, Federal highway dollars directly impact 11,000 jobs in Montana alone, not to mention the thousands of others who rely on roads for their businesses. These are jobs that cannot be outsourced. Each year, around $60 billion in goods is shipped over Montana's 75,000 miles of roads and highways. That is true economic impact.
So instead of a long-term highway bill that allows States to plan and to get America moving, the next item the majority leader says he is going to take up is trade promotion authority. This will open the door for trade deals that the American public hasn't been allowed to see. While many in Washington see trade promotion as the key to ensuring America's long-term economic viability, we need to make sure that the investments are made right here at home--smart investments.
After all, how are farmers in Montana going to get their crops to Asia if they cannot even get them down the road to the nearest grain elevator? Our transportation infrastructure affects every industry. Take, for instance, Montana's outdoor economy. Millions of people come to Montana each year to hunt, fish, hike, and enjoy Montana's great outdoors--from Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks to our millions of acres of forest and public lands. Montana's outdoors brings in $6 billion each year and supports some 60,000 jobs.
Passing a highway bill will increase folks' ability to access these outdoor places. But States which oversee these construction projects cannot wait until the end of the month to find out if Congress is going to do its job. Many of them are already pumping the brakes on projects until we step up and pass a highway infrastructure bill.
In the University District in Missoula, an important resurfacing project was scheduled to start next week after classes get out. But thanks to congressional inaction on the highway bill, that project will start no earlier than the third week in July--maybe not at all.
What does that mean? That means the project likely will not be done before students return and traffic in the University District increases exponentially. The Montana Department of Transportation has already announced it will push back the start-up date 3 months for a bridge replacement in Sanders County.
With one in five bridges being in desperate need of repair, delays on projects such as this are irresponsible and only add to the backlog. The need to act could not be more clear. While everyone knows we need a long-term solution, the American people have come to expect the worst from Congress--shortsighted, stopgap measures that will not give businesses or working families the certainty they need and deserve.
The House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have put forth no solutions to this date. They are anxious to move the trade legislation that seems all too reminiscent of past trade deals-- long on promises but short on jobs. Yet they will not produce a long- term highway bill that we know creates jobs here in America.
We must pass a long-term highway bill, and one that is paid for. But instead of working together on a long-term plan, Congress seems resigned to passing another short-term patch. This is shortsighted and we will have negative consequences for folks across this country.
The question I have for my colleagues is this. When did passing a highway bill become political? When [[Page S2632]] did basic investments in our Nation's infrastructure become this difficult? This is a no-brainer. Now we have folks in Congress who think roads build themselves. We have folks in Congress who eagerly swipe the Nation's credit card when it comes to investments in the Middle East. But these same Members of Congress will not even open up the wallet to fill a pothole next to a school in this country.
China will spend more than $400 billion on transportation infrastructure this year. That is eight times more than the United States will spend on the highway trust fund. How do we expect to compete in a global economy if we are not willing to make the investment? Infrastructure investments are investments in our economy, and they are investments in the future. If we can pass a long-term bill, it will pay for itself by giving businesses the certainty they need to grow, create jobs, and build the kind of economy that our kids and our grandkids deserve.
The clock is ticking, but the Senate is focused on the wrong priorities. It is time to refocus on making smart investments in our economy and being honest with the American people in our budgets. Right now we are doing neither.
I yield the floor.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.