(Editor’s note: The following are Sen. Jim Inhofe’s remarks on Senate floor regarding the importance of long-term highway funding.)
As you’ve heard me say before, my top priority as Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee has been and continues to be passing a long-term highway reauthorization bill. Since the expiration of SAFETEA-LU in 2009, Congress has resorted to passing short-term extension after short term extension just to keep the highway program in operation.
As a result, industry, stakeholders, and local government leaders have lost faith in Congress’s ability to provide funding certainty to maintain and advance our surface transportation infrastructure.
Ranking Member Barbara Boxer and I have been fighting to change this and reverse the trend of wasteful short-term patches.
On June 24, our committee unanimously voted to advance the DRIVE Act, a 6-year reauthorization bill, to the Senate.
In July, the Senate gave strong bipartisan support – by a vote of 65 to 34 – for the DRIVE Act, which also included contributions from the Senate Commerce Committee and Senate Banking Committee.
The Senate worked hard and across party lines to put forward a solution for our nation’s roads and bridges. We ended the summer by passing yet another short-term patch in order to give more time for the House to join our efforts.
Unfortunately, we are now three days away from facing another cliff, and the two Chambers have not yet been able to conference a long-term transportation solution.
However, Chairman Bud Shuster and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee marked up a 6-year reauthorization bill last Thursday. I am proud to see that both chambers are on similar pages.
Both bills: recognize the need for a national freight program, further environmental streamlining, place a new focus on innovation, provide states with flexibility, and most importantly, both bills provide necessary long-term certainty.
We are now one step closer to putting America back on the map as the best place to do business.
It is my understanding that the House intends to move Chairman Shuster’s 6-year reauthorization bill through the full House over the next two weeks.
Unlike in years past, I expect a very short conference period. And because we still face this important process, Congress will need one more extension to get us to the finish line.
I realize there are many moving discussions on larger deals on Debt Limit and budget caps. However, there is agreement that the Surface Transportation Bill can and will move on its own timeline.
The House will move a shortterm extension to November 20 this week, and I hope the Senate passes it quickly so the House can move the T&I reported bill on the floor and we can move to a quickly resolved conference.
Due to the similarity in both of our bills, I am confident Congress can – and should – have a bill on the president’s desk by Thanksgiving.
If we fail to get this done by Nov. 20, we will be faced with two new, significant hurdles.
First, Congress has other very pressing deadlines to address in December to include: Dec. 11,when legislation funding the federal government expires; Dec. 31, when a host of important tax provisions expire; and another Dec. 31 deadline, when provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act – which the president vetoed – will expire, provisions such as enlistment bonuses for our all-volunteer force.
Addressing these deadlines will require Congress’ undivided attention. Some of the solutions for these bills could also result, I fear, in Members attempting to siphon off the pay forms in the DRIVE Act.
The second significant hurdle we face is that later this year, the Highway Trust Fund will drop to a dangerously low level, as DOT Sec. Foxx has warned.
At that point, agencies at the federal and state level will begin to implement cash management procedures that significantly affect the State’s construction seasons.
Mark my words — a failure for Congress to enact a long-term bill by Thanksgiving will result in a lost 2016 construction season. Congress
will return to its current pattern of short-term extensions and continue to kick the can down the road for the unforeseeable future and to the determent of our country’s economy.
This is a terrible outcome that must be avoided at all cost. By making industry and states continue to hold their breath and budgets, we rob taxpayers of cost efficient project planning and continue to stall on launching major economy-boosting projects.
Just look at my state of Oklahoma, which lost $63 million in construction dollars over the past few years as a direct result of inefficiency and contracting uncertainty that comes from short-term extensions.
When Congress passes short term extensions, we lose 30 percent off the top. This is why the conservative position is to pass long-term bills.
With a fully-funded, long-term reauthorization, Oklahoma would actually see a savings of $122 million and millions more in efficiency savings from long-term commitments and early completion savings from contractors.
I have no doubt if you ask your states’ industry and government leaders, they will share the same experience.
It’s time Congress fulfills its constitutional duty to fund our roads and bridges. Americans demand it, and our economy depends on it.
As I stated earlier, I am confident that the Senate and House will work together to get this bill to the President’s desk within the next few weeks.
I wish my counterpart on the House side, Chairman Shuster, the best of luck moving forward. I look forward to working with him in conference and to sending the President legislation that will advance our economy and help to bring jobs back to America.