- The Washington Times - Monday, July 14, 2014

With the House and Senate scrambling to act before the Highway Trust Fund runs dry, the White House on Monday said President Obama will bypass lawmakers and use an executive action to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

At a speech in Delaware on Thursday, the president will announce new steps designed to spur private investment into efforts to fix roads, bridges, tunnels and other pieces of U.S. infrastructure. The details of the program — part of the president’s “year of action” — remain under wraps.

The announcement comes as both the House and Senate try to finalize plans to save the trust fund, which gets its money through taxes on gasoline and diesel and then disperses dollars to states for infrastructure projects. Without congressional action, it is expected to go broke in less than a month.

But efforts on Capitol Hill to address the looming shortfall remain far removed from the White House’s preferred approach. Earlier this year, Mr. Obama proposed a massive four-year, $302 billion infrastructure program paid for in part through tax hikes.

Proposals in both the House and Senate instead call for a short-term $11 billion, one-year fix funded through other means.

The White House, while still pushing its expensive, long-term solution, does seem to be acknowledging that the president’s plan must be shelved, at least temporarily. Monday afternoon, the administration released a statement saying it supports passage of the House bill as a stopgap measure.

Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president remains focused on both an immediate and a more permanent fix to infrastructure funding.

“Investing in infrastructure keeps the economy moving, spurs innovation and bolsters our national competitiveness. This is a key part of the president’s year of action plan, and he looks forward to continuing to call for Congress and all partners to work with us on short-term and long-term solutions,” Mr. Earnest said.

As House and Senate leaders prepare to take action, the administration is keeping the issue front and center.

Before Thursday’s address in Delaware, Mr. Obama on Tuesday will speak at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in suburban Virginia.

Ahead of that address, the White House on Monday released a new report detailing the damage that will come to each state if the trust fund runs out of cash.

The interactive study claims, for example, that California could lose more than 73,000 jobs and 5,600 infrastructure projects without the money. In Maryland, 12,000 jobs and nearly 2,000 projects are at risk, according to the study.

While there are disagreements on the funding levels needed, all sides agree something must be done to prevent those job losses.

“I urge my Senate colleagues to quickly take up this bill after it passes the House next week and avoid any brinkmanship. There is no need to jeopardize critical road and transit projects, let alone the thousands of jobs they provide,” Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said last week after his panel passed a measure to address the coming shortfall.

A full House vote on Mr. Camp’s bill is expected this week.

The bill raises $11 billion through so-called “pension smoothing” — allowing companies to defer contributions to pension plans and thereby raising taxable profits — and transfers money from a federal fund meant to pay for the cleanup of underground storage tanks.

The Senate Committee on Finance also has cleared a bill raising about $11 billion for infrastructure. Like the House version, it relies on some pension changes but also seeks to ensure that only qualified Americans are taking advantage of earned income and child tax credits.

But Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, agrees with the White House that the current plans are only Band-Aids on a larger problem.

“We all know what’s needed next is a long-term bill that rebuilds our broken infrastructure,” he said last week.

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