Lewis Statement on the Highway Trust Fund Provisions in the "HIRE" Act

Apr 12, 2011
Press Release

Lewis Statement on H.R. 2847, the “HIRE” Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Appropriations Ranking Republican Jerry Lewis today gave the following statement on the House floor on H.R. 2847, the “Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act:”
“Mr. Chairman, I rise to speak on the highway provisions in H.R. 2847.  I think it is important that my colleagues understand that the bill before us isn’t a clean extension of SAFETEA-LU’s highway and transit programs, but includes new policies that would continue the program on its current road to ruin.
“I support a strong surface transportation program. I know our constituents depend on this program to keep our roads and transit systems open and safe, and to help keep economic investments coming to our communities.
“But we also know that the highway trust fund is badly broken, that it has been broken for some time.  The trust fund has been in a nosedive for years due to overspending, but nothing was ever done about it. 
“As a result, since 2008 we’ve had to transfer $15 billion from the taxpayers’ general fund to the highway trust fund to fulfill the promises of SAFETEA-LU.  If we hadn’t, the trust fund would have gone bankrupt.  That’s not how this program should work. 
“Now, the last thing we should be doing is going on a deficit spending spree and making things worse – but that is exactly what this bill would do. 
“This bill authorizes another $19.5 billion transfer from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund – the third taxpayer bailout of the highway trust fund since 2008. Every penny of this has to be borrowed, and will increase the already sky rocketing deficits and debt.
“Worse, the bill sets even higher spending levels for years to come – well above what it brings in through excise fuel taxes.  The legislation does not identify new ways to pay for this additional spending, but assumes that it will be paid for by future borrowing.
“Mr. Speaker, this bill continues the failed policies that helped bankrupt the trust fund in the first place. It continues to lock in unsustainable spending through IOU’s that will be paid for by appropriations down the road. 
“No other category of spending – not national defense, veterans, national parks, cancer research, education, economic development or anything else – can be paid for this way. Highway spending is protected from competing against other important national priorities in the annual budget process.  And, the results are clear: the Highway Trust Fund was exempted from any budget discipline for over a decade, and, predictably, it was spent into the ground.
“Proponents of this highway expansion will try to tell you that all of this doesn’t cost anything.  That is total fiction. There are no free lunches. You can’t take $20 billion away from the General Fund, which is already running a massive deficit, and spend it on highways and say that the government won’t have to borrow that money back to cover its other bills. That’s ridiculous. These bills will come due, and will be paid by our children and grandchildren.
“What needs to happen is not a highway expansion in the guise of an extension, or another bailout from the General Fund, or more budget gimmicks. What we need is for the authorizing committees and this Congress to do its job and reauthorize the surface transportation programs. We are now a year past due, and we need to get this work done.  Bailouts on the back of the taxpayer are not acceptable. Let’s work together on a long term solution now that doesn’t put our kids and grandkids on the hook.”

112th Congress