“NO” on Transportation Spending Hike, Bailout, and Ex-Im Reauthorization Bill (H.R. 22)

This week, the House and Senate will vote on the conference report for H.R. 22, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The bill would spend more on highways than either the House or Senate-passed bills, and would finance that increased funding almost exclusively with embarrassing budget gimmicks.

Overall, the FAST Act continues the unsustainable federal highway and transit spending for 5 years.  The $305 billion bill is $70 billion in excess of projected Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenue.  When it comes to highway programs specifically, the bill spends $281 billion over that five-year period – more than anticipated by either the $268 billion House-passed bill or the $280 billion Senate-passed bill.  The outcome represents a caricature of congressional negotiations: one chamber proposes an unsustainable spending bill, the other proposes even more spending, and they “negotiate” a level even higher. The FAST Act also cynically shortens the bill in order to stretch the spending even further. As Heritage explains:

The responsible move would be to reject this false proposition of spending more in exchange for a shorter bill. Once higher spending levels are enacted, they become the new “baseline”, begetting even more spending and commensurate bailouts in the future. This is not a prudent course for a trust fund with a cumulative deficit already projected at $159 billion over the next decade.

The FAST Act claims to reprioritize federal spending on federally-relevant projects, but in the same breath brags about increasing support for local bus programs by 89%. In fact, there is very little in terms of programmatic reforms in this bill. It continues to divert ever increasing amounts of funding from the supposedly highway-dedicated HTF to spend on non-highway-related projects. While the bill claims to reform Amtrak, it goes on to extend $8 billion in authorizations for the rail service, averaging over 5 percent annual increases. The wasteful New Starts program continues to receive over $2 billion in spending authority each year.

H.R. 22, as a 5-year highway and transit bill, does not represent something Congress should be proud of. It represents a Congress that refuses to make the tough choices and instead relies on gimmicks to finance its spending appetite. In fact, the largest “payfor” is a provision CBO notes “has no [impact] for the fiscal status of the federal government.” The FAST Act also returns to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) well for another $6.2 billion. It also contains provisions that further empower the embattled IRS, allowing it to use private debt collectors to help collect federal taxes, and giving it the authority to deny passports to Americans.

The bill also unravels a minor reduction in the federal crop insurance program.  The $3 billion “payfor” was embedded in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 – the bill that shattered the spending caps established in 2011.

Finally, the bill resurrects the now-defunct poster-child of corporate welfare: the Export-Import Bank. Ending this bank was a major blow to the culture of crony capitalism festering  in Washington, and reviving it now damages the conservative movement and the credibility of efforts to rid the federal government of favoritism for special interests.

Heritage Action opposes the FAST Act and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

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