Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is keeping his options open on how to fund a new highway bill in order to help foster a bipartisan solution.
“Nothing has been agreed to, nothing has been ruled out, nothing has been ruled in,” Wyden told reporters Tuesday. “And the way it's going to work is by the end of today, early tomorrow morning, we'll have a bead on what members of the Finance Committee want to do and then we'll go from there.”
“There are no easy answers here,” Wyden continued. “Failure is not an option and we're going to make decisions in a bipartisan way.”
“The goal is still to get it out of Finance by the end of this work period,” he said.
His comments come as Congress must act to renew the highway bill before funding — which comes from gas tax receipts — effectively runs out as soon as next month.
Wyden stressed that failing to act would deal a harsh blow to the frail economy. The White House has warned that not putting a solution in place would delay about 112,000 roadway projects and 5,600 transit projects, and cost the economy as many as 700,000 construction jobs in the next year.
“In an economy this fragile, that's why I said, failure is not an option,” Wyden said. “It is obviously a challenge when some senators are advocating short-term approaches, some senators are advocating long term approaches and some senators would like to do both. I've been very clear that I have not locked in to one particular route or another.”
One possible path could be to for Congress to pass legislation providing a temporary tax holiday for American companies to bring overseas profits back into the U.S. at a lower tax rate, known as repatriation, which would generate one-time revenue.
But the Joint Tax Committee has said that repatriation would cost $95 billion and some, including Finance Committee ranking member Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, believe that it should only be undertaken in connection with tax reform.
“A tax holiday meant to encourage U.S. companies to repatriate funds from overseas should only be considered when it makes economic sense, such as part of comprehensive tax reform,” Hatch said in a release Monday. “The Joint Committee on Taxation has clearly outlined the ramifications of a temporary tax holiday, and the outlook is not in the best interest of the American people nor for the coffers of the federal government. It is my hope my fellow lawmakers note these projections when considering options to fund future projects and programs.”
Another possible path currently under discussion in the House would use funds saved from an overhaul of the post office. House Republican leaders issued a memo to their members late last month, proposing a $14 billion to $15 billion yearlong patch to the highway trust fund, paid for by changes to the Postal Service’s delivery schedule.
But the proposal has already been decried by Senate Democrats, conservative outside groups and newspaper editorial boards alike, all noting that it does not provide a long-term revenue source for highway funding. And while House GOP aides concede it is not a perfect plan, they note that there have been no other viable plans put forth to deal with the issue.
Club For Growth president Chris Chocola excoriated the proposal in a news release Tuesday.
“Both the Highway Trust Fund and the United States Postal Service are unsustainable in their current form, and stealing from one to prop up the other is simply bad policy and demonstrates a lack of leadership by the Republicans,” Chocola said. “Instead of continuing the charade that the Highway Trust Fund and USPS are solvent in the long run, Congress should devolve highway funding to the states and privatize the United States Postal Service completely. There’s simply no reason to keep kicking the can down the road.”