Kirk Landers

Meet the New Hypocrisy.

Same as the Old Hypocrisy.

By Kirk Landers, Editor Emeritus

When the 112th Congress convened in January, the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives made a great show of reading the U.S. Constitution aloud, word for word, in its entirety.

It made for riveting C-SPAN viewing — if you’ve never read the Constitution yourself, or never heard it read by people who profess to revere it with a passion that borders on religious zealotry.

Of course, if you have any political sophistication at all, the exercise was a jarring introduction to the new political culture in the House. From the point of view of highway users and the road industry, the change is not better or worse. It is just a continuation of a sad, cowardly chapter in American politics that has been unfolding since the birth of the pathetic SAFETEA-LU transportation bill in 2005. As inadequate and tardy as that legislation was, the failure of the last Congress to propose any sort of new federal program when SAFETEA-LU expired in 2009 showed that things could be worse.

And in January, the new Republican majority in the House served notice that they have every intention of doing worse yet, albeit while singing a different tune.

The Republican faithful somehow managed to avoid snickering during their pious reading of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. That’s where the founding fathers named transportation investment as a core function of the federal government.

You could forgive them if they had laughed outright at this juncture because two days before, on January 4, behind closed doors, the Republican caucus unilaterally rescinded budgetary guarantees that user fees collected for the Highway Trust Fund would be invested in a timely manner and only for transportation improvements. On January 5, that provision passed a party-line vote in the full House as part of a package of new rules for the new Congress.

That Highway Trust Fund firewall was enacted 13 years ago by a large, bipartisan majority. It ended a destructive period of budget gimmicks in which trust fund dollars went unused so the balance could be used to understate the federal budget deficit. Meanwhile, the condition of the nation’s roads and bridges decayed at a precipitous rate.

“The real life implication of this action is that it injects further uncertainty into the already reeling U.S. transportation construction market where unemployment is in excess of 18 percent,” says Pete Ruane, president of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, in a statement released on January 4.

The nonpartisan lobby group issued another press release on January 6, the 28th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan signing into law a 5-cents-per-gallon fuel tax increase. The ARTBA release reminded us that when Reagan, the most popular conservative president of modern times, signed the bill, he said, “Common sense tells us that it will cost a lot less to keep the system we have in good repair than to let it disintegrate and have to start over again from scratch.”

If only today’s conservatives had half so much interest in solving America’s problems. So far, unfortunately, they have shown us only a willingness to keep the sound-bites simple and to pursue reelection strategies rather than solutions.

And so the House of Representatives passes from the political cowardice of the Democrats to the political cowardice of the Republicans, a sad story told in the mumbles of hypocrites for the benefit of the gullible.v