Senator Mike Lee: The Failed Policy and Cynical Process of the Highway Bill [UPH Wire]

Friday, December 4, 2015

Click here to watch

*The Failed Policy and Cynical Process of the Highway Bill*

WASHINGTON—Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) delivered the following remarks

on the Senate floor last night outlining the problems with the highway bill
and the broken process that produced it. You can watch the remarks here

*Mr. President,*

*I rise in opposition to the highway spending bill before us today – and
not just the failed and corrupt substance of the legislation. *

*I rise to oppose the bill’s irresponsible and unsustainable funding
mechanisms and the cynical process that produced it.*

*We are told that this bill fully funds federal highway spending for the
next five years, and that it won’t add a single dime to the federal
deficit. The math may add up on paper, but does anyone really think the
pay-fors in this bill are honest, responsible ways to fund a government

*Let’s look at a few examples. *

*Of the $70 billion this bill uses to bailout the Highway Trust Fund over
the next five years, more than $50 billion comes from an accounting gimmick
that steals money from the rest of the Treasury’s general fund.*

*Here’s how the shell game works. Normally, the Federal Reserve sends the
profits from its portfolio of assets directly to the Treasury. These
surplus profits are actually one of the major reasons our federal budget
deficits have fallen in recent years. *

*However, this bill would siphon off that money and redirect it into the
Highway Trust Fund. Just this week, Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen,
testified before the Joint Economic Committee, where she commented on this
provision. She said, [QUOTE] *

*“This concerns me, I think financing federal fiscal spending by tapping
resources at the Federal Reserve sets bad precedent and impinges on the
independence of the central bank; it weakens fiscal discipline, and I would
point out that repurposing the Federal Reserve’s capital surplus doesn’t
actually create any new money for the federal government.”*

*And that’s not the only funding gimmick found in this legislation. It also
purports to raises $6.2 billion in revenue for transportation and
infrastructure projects by selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum
Reserve. *

*Let’s leave aside, for a second, that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was
never intended to be a piggy bank for congressional appropriators. What
makes this pay-for particularly objectionable is that its authors assume
they can get $93 for a barrel of oil when it is currently selling for less
than $40 per barrel. *

*If we’re going to start selling federal assets at fantasy prices, there is
no limit to the number of things we can pretend to pay for.*

*But as bad as the bill’s funding schemes are, the cynical process used to
secure votes in its favor is far more troubling. *

*For instance, this bill adds back $3.5 billion in crop-subsidy spending
that we cut just last week in the budget deal. Is this really how we do
business in the United States Senate? Reduce spending one week in order to
appear fiscally responsible, only to reverse course the very next week when
nobody is expecting it? You don’t need to oppose crop subsidies to see the
dishonesty and cynicism of this maneuver. *

*Even worse, this bill would not have a chance of passing the Senate were
it not for a deal to include a renewal of the Export-Import Bank. *

*I have spoken out against the Export-Import Bank many times before, so
there’s little need to revisit the mountain of evidence proving that it is
one of the most egregious, indefensible cases of crony capitalism in
Washington, D.C. *

*But it is worth highlighting some of the so-called “reforms” that Ex-Im’s
supporters included in the bill.*

*First, there’s the new “Office of Ethics” created within the Bank.
Presumably this is supposed to help the Bank’s management reduce the rate
at which Ex-Im employees and beneficiaries are indicted for fraud, bribery,
and other wrongdoings. Since 2009, there have been 85 such indictments – or
about 14 per year. *

*The bill also creates a new position – called the “Chief Risk Officer” –
and requires the Bank to go through an independent audit of its portfolio. *

*Only in Washington will you find people who believe that an organization’s
systemic ethical failings can be overcome by creating a new “ethics”
bureaucracy… or that hiring a new a risk-management bureaucrat is a
suitable replacement for market discipline… or that giving another
multi-million-dollar contract to a well connected accounting firm will
substitute for real political accountability. *

*None of these bogus “reforms” will make an ounce of difference. None of
them change the essential purpose of the Export-Import Bank, which is to
use taxpayer money to subsidize wealthy, politically connected businesses.*

*Finally, Mr. President, it must be stressed that this bill does nothing to
fix our fundamentally broken highway financing system. *

*After this legislation is enacted, the Highway Trust Fund will still spend
more money than the federal gas tax brings in. And after this series of
fraudulent pay-fors are exhausted in just five years, we will be right back
to where we’ve been for the past decade: trying to find enough money for
another bailout without attracting too much attention from the American

*And let’s not forget that the states are big losers under the status quo
system too. *

*Federal bureaucrats divert least 25 percent the states’ gas tax dollars to
non-highway projects, including mass transit, bike paths, and other
boondoggles like “vegetation management.” Federal Davis Bacon price-fixing
regulations artificially inflate construction costs by at least 10 percent.
And federal environmental regulations, like those issued under the National
Environmental Policy Act, add an average of 6.1 years in planning delays to
any federally funded project.*

*I understand that Washington is not ready for a more conservative approach
to infrastructure funding, one where states get to keep their
transportation dollars and decide how and on what they will spend those
dollars, free from interference by federal regulators. *
*We can have honest disagreements over policy and I know there’s more work
to do in making the case for conservative transportation reform.*
*But what I refuse to accept is the corrupt process that produced this
bill. The backroom deals, the about-face on crop subsidies and the
Export-Import Bank. *
*The American people deserve better than this. And I won’t stop fighting to
ensure that we will do better than this in the future. *

*Communications Director*
Conn Carroll

*Press Secretary*
Emily Long


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