Oklahoma conservative Republican Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who has “been through,” as a he puts it, eight reauthorization bills, said after hearing outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood say President Obama’s goal was $500 billion to $600 billion long-term reauthorization bill:
“It’s not going to happen.”
But, he said, a long term, well-funded bill is essential and it needs to be passed when MAP-21 runs out in September 2014. There is evidence, he said, that extensions of existing bills–and there were nine for the SAFETEA-LU Act that expired in 2009 before MAP-21 arrived, “costs us 30 percent; we lose 30 percent of the value of the fund if we do it by extensions.”
Inhofe also supported two potentially contentious issues as reauthorization approaches: earmarks and the use of the General Fund to supply the Highway Trust Fund (HTF).
On earmarks: “Our job [in Congress] is to appropriate and authorize. If we don’t do earmarks in Congress, the President will do it. You don’t save a penny. And the most egregious misuse of earmarks comes from the President and the bureaucrats.”
On the General Fund: “The General Fund is there to do things that people want done in government. We can go to the General Fund.” Inhofe read a laundry list of General Fund expenditures that he pointed out could be cut and would save enough money to significantly boost the HTF. Opponents of the use of the General Fund commonly argue that the biggest risk in using it is that nearly every other government program uses the fund and transportation infrastructure must then compete for funding every year.
Inhofe is the former ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (he is now the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee) chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Both Senators have spoken of the value of their bipartisan work on MAP-21 and their ability to work together to craft surface transportation legislation over the years.
But Inhofe says their working relationship on transportation bills including MAP-21 was no surprise. Even though he conceded he is one of the most conservative members of Congress, he said he has always been willing to spend in two areas: transportation and defense. Both are areas where government should be involved and both create jobs and a stronger America, he said.
So it really wasn’t that much of a surprise he worked well with Senator Boxer to pass reauthorization bills such as MAP-21. “Senator Boxer and I got along famously on this whether she was chairman or I was. We disagreed on everything else.”
From the same foundation–that transportation is a legitimate and required government role–Inhofe was critical of ultra conservative Republicans who oppose transportation spending and lump transportation into a broad general argument where they claim the government should retreat in its role.
Inhofe was addressing the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) Fly-In in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. The TCC is a partnership of 29 national associations and construction unions founded in 1996.