Congress Playing With Fire on Infrastructure Spending

Atlantic writer: We need a long-term fix, not 60-day stopgaps
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 20, 2015 1:20 PM CDT
Congress Playing With Fire on Infrastructure Spending
In this file photo, cracked pylons support a wooden bridge closed to traffic because of structural problems south of Mead, Neb.   (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, file)

One thing both parties agree on is that the way we fund projects to repair roads, rails, and bridges is a joke, writes Russell Berman at the Atlantic. Witness the House vote earlier this week to keep the Highway Trust Fund alive—for only another two months. Without the fund, money for infrastructure projects disappears, but a 60-day fix is nowhere near long enough. These are long-term projects that require long-term planning, and states are reluctant to pull the trigger if they think federal funds are going to dry up. Members of both parties complain about the problem, but they can't seem to fix it, writes Berman. "Congress has been plugging the trust fund like a driver who refills his gas tank one gallon at a time."

Democrats and Republicans want a six-year highway bill, but they can't agree on how to pay for it. Raise the federal gas tax? Use taxes on the foreign earnings of US companies? Both have been floated as options, but agreement on the details remains out of reach. "Outside groups are now hoping Congress will turn to a method of payment that, until recently, had gone out of style: deficit spending," writes Berman, who notes that it worked recently in regard to a change in Medicare financing. "With deficit mania having died down, lawmakers may well come around to that idea—but probably not before punting a few more times first." Click to read the full column. (John Boehner is fed up with questions about Amtrak funding.)

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