Congressional bickering imperils Highway Trust Fund
In August, the federal Highway Trust Fund runs out of money, and Congress is in a dither. As members consider proposals ranging from gas taxes to general cuts in federal spending, perhaps Americans ought to be grateful that gridlocked body is debating an issue of significance.
But Congress doesn't need to rethink transportation in the next 30 days. Its job for now is to make sure the Highway Trust Fund doesn't run dry.
States are counting on that money. Congress must quickly supplement the fund with $10 billion. Otherwise, it would trigger a slowdown in transportation spending nationally. That's bad news for motorists, construction workers and the national economy.
Congress has been supplementing the fund since 2001 - the current federal gas tax, 18.4 cents a gallon, hasn't kept up with the demand. What's new is that Congress has developed a taste for brinkmanship. Suddenly a problem everyone has known about for years needs to be fixed right this minute.
So Congress now faces a spate of ideas, such as raising the federal gas tax by 12 cents - probably a bad idea for states that are struggling to raise their own gas taxes, and it's an idea that won't work over the long haul anyway as cars become more fuel-efficient.
Democrats want to whack corporate tax loopholes and some Republicans want a general belt-tightening. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., offers an intriguing plan to replace the federal gas tax with a barrel tax indexed to inflation. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., recessed committee deliberations Thursday for negotiations with the House.
That is a good debate to have, but it is not one that can conclude in 30 days. Congress needs to deal with first things first.
Boehner's lawsuit against Obama is a bad move
Most Americans would agree that this nation has too much partisanship and too many lawsuits. In announcing last week that he will seek legislation for the House of Representatives to sue President Barack Obama, Speaker John Boehner embraces a double dose of negativity.
In a letter to lawmakers, Boehner wrote, "The Constitution makes it clear that a president's job is to faithfully execute the laws; in my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws." He was not specific about what laws he was referring to, but he said that it's "our responsibility to stand up for this institution in which we serve."
One problem is that while the Obama administration offers examples of presidential overreach, it was also true of the George W. Bush administration, which was often accused of asserting imperial powers. Bush engaged in the deplorable practice of appending signing statements to legislation, something that, unfortunately, has continued under Obama. This battle between the White House and Congress over their prerogatives is an old one, yet only now are Republicans moved to sue.
Obama's latest frustration is the House's refusal to fix the nation's immigration system. On Monday the president said he would act on his own to address some of the problems. On Tuesday, he taunted his congressional adversaries: "So sue me."
Even if legislation permitting a lawsuit could be passed, the case would be pursued at taxpayers' expense. Boehner, in sticking up for his institution, is not sticking up for them. Members of Congress are paid to do their jobs; running to the courts because they have a problem with the president is not in the job description.