Providing for Consideration of Conference Report on H.R. 22, Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015by Representative Reid J. Ribble
Posted on 2015-12-03
RIBBLE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Mr. Speaker, once again, the Congress has offered Members the classic Sophie's choice. Either vote ``no'' on the transportation bill and guarantee no reforms to road and bridge building happen, or vote ``yes'' and get reforms necessary to save money and streamline construction, but do it without actually paying for it and keep racking up the national debt.
While many of my colleagues are sure to rush to the floor in the next few hours to pat themselves on the back for accomplishing this marvelous, transformational highway bill, we should not be popping champagne. There is no backslapping deserved.
While I am encouraged by the fact that in many ways the policy related to surface transportation takes a significant step forward, I am deeply discouraged by the phony pay-fors.
Mr. Speaker, during the upcoming debate on this legislation, you and the American people are going to hear repeatedly that this bill is fully offset and fully paid for, essentially that new revenue and savings will keep the cost of this bill from adding to our national debt. This is, plain and simple, not the case. Most of the offsets are from general fund transfers.
Now, it would take a magician of miraculous skill to transfer money out of a fund that has a negative balance of $400 billion. If, in fact, there is money to transfer from an empty fund, I might suggest that we instead try to make the fund a bit less empty instead of transferring it to more spending.
But I digress. Let's take a look at the pay-fors.
One of a long series of phony offsets is selling off oil that is currently owned by the American people in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. While you are stewarding the American people's money, you are supposed to buy low and sell high, not the other way around. Not only are we selling off a public asset at near record low prices, we are also counting on getting over double the current market price in order to make all the math work. If you can find a buyer to pay $94 per barrel for oil, like the authors claim, while the market price is $41, I have got a bridge to nowhere to sell you.
Another phony offset is hiring aggressive private contractors to go after people who are delinquent on their Federal taxes. Now, listen, I am all for collecting all outstanding taxes. But what does that have to do with road building? If, in fact, we can collect an additional $2.5 billion by doing this, shouldn't that money be put against the $400- billion deficit we are facing already? Why is it an offset that generates its revenue amount over 10 years when the highway bill is only for 5 years? What is going to happen in year 6? Will all the road building the country needs be completed by then? Are there not any other roads going to need to be built in year 6? Are we not, then, just going to have to borrow even more money? Mr. Speaker, the bill does make a very reasonable point that taxes must be indexed to inflation to keep from losing value every year. I found this quite ironic. That makes total sense. So it is applied to the gas tax; right? Wrong.
Mr. Speaker, here is my favorite phony pay-for. The bill's authors didn't have the political courage to deal with user fees for drivers, but instead are indexing taxes collected by the U.S. Customs Service. Now, that is really ironic, but that tax is easy to hide from constituents. Now Americans returning from overseas will pay more for them in taxes to pave our roads while people who use the roads simply look on and smile.
Yet, Mr. Speaker, there is more. There are modifications to royalty payments. Wow, that has got everything to do with roads. Or how about denying passports to those who have unpaid taxes? This is allegedly going to raise $350 million. Of course, that has nothing to do with roads, and, in fact, may not even be possible without all kinds of court trials and cases.
Mr. Speaker, I know you can sense my frustration. At the end of the day, this bill will pass, the President will sign it, and while everyone is patting themselves on the back for passing a long-term solution, we are going to continue to pile debt on our grandchildren.
We are so close, though, to getting this right. We streamlined the process to get roads built faster saving taxpayer dollars. We have returned more decisionmaking back to the States, and we have reduced the bureaucracy and red tape around transportation construction.
Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from Colorado and the gentleman from Georgia have eloquently explained some of the benefits of the piece of legislation. These are valuable and not insignificant reforms. It is because of these reforms that I am going to reluctantly support this bill in spite of these phony, god-awful pay-fors. Here is why: I realize that if this bill does not pass, what we will get instead is another extension of current policy and more borrowing, because that is what the Congress has done since I have been here.
So this goes back to the classic Sophie's choice I mentioned at the beginning of my conversation here. To get the good, I must accept the bad; to reject the bad, I must reject the good. If only this body, this Congress, had the political courage to tell the American people a simple truth: if something is worth buying, it is worth paying for. Taxing tomorrow should not replace living within our means today. It hurts future generations, and I am profoundly disappointed. We can and should do better for the people who sent us here to speak for them.