- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Newly elected House Speaker Paul Ryan said a long-term highway bill is a “good place to start” on his pledge to open up the legislative process and allow members to be heard.

Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said the House will take up “lots of amendments, considered by all members of both parties” when the $325 billion package hits the floor.

“We’re opening up the process. We’re allowing members to participate in a way that the Founders intended, and we’re advancing an issue that is a big priority to the hardworking taxpayers of this country — fixing our roads and bridges, improving our transportation infrastructure,” Mr. Ryan said in his first press conference with the GOP leadership team.

The bill authored by Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania Republican, authorizes roads projects for six years but only pays for the first three years, relying on revenue from the federal gas tax and a mix of offsets the Senate cobbled together when it passed its own highway bill in the summer.

Lawmakers said they’ll try to pony up the rest when they go to conference.

“It’s a three-year bill that has three years of financing, and if we can come up with more financing down the road, we can add more years to the bill,” Mr. Ryan said.

To that end, Mr. Shuster said late Monday that Congress might use one-time tax on business income brought back to the U.S. to close the gap between anticipated roads spending and what the federal gas tax brings in.

“If we get the funding from whatever source in the next three weeks, three months, or within the next three years, that can flow right into the bill and continue on,” he told the Rules Committee. “We won’t have to come back and do a rewrite three years from now.”

There have been more than 30 short-term extensions since the last long-term highway bill, which was passed in 2005 and expired in 2009.

The latest short-term patch to keep projects moving expires Nov. 20, so the House is scrambling to finish its bill before Congress leaves town late Thursday for a 10-day break.

House members filed 270 amendments to the bill — 182 of them are related transportation provisions, including a Democrat-led bid to gradually raise the federal gas tax from 18.3 cents-per-gallon to 33.3 cents by 2018.

The other 88 amendments related to non-transportation provisions, including one by Rep. Scott Garrett, New Jersey Republican, that create a legal pathway for companies to sue the federal Export-Import Bank if it can demonstrate that it’s been harmed by the agency’s decision to finance a competitor’s sales overseas.

Mr. Ryan and leading conservatives want to kill off the bank known as “Ex-Im,” which lapsed June 30, although it could be revived as part of the highway debate.

Leading Senate Democrats said reauthorizing the bank and passing a multi-year roads bill should be at the top of Congress’ agenda.

“Following the recently passed 35th short-term highway bill extension, it is clearer now more than ever that it is well past time for Congress to enact a long-term highway bill with robust funding that meets our nation’s transportation infrastructure needs,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and other top Democrats said in a letter to Mr. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

For its part, the White House said its enthused by the possibility of reviving Ex-Im but feels the highway bill itself has “significant shortcomings.”

The bill “maintains funding at current levels, which are widely acknowledged to be below the level needed to maintain this country’s surface transportation infrastructure, let alone improve it,” it said in an official statement on its position. “Indeed, as the Nation’s population rises and our existing infrastructure ages, funding at baseline levels as proposed in [the bill] will guarantee that roadway conditions and congestion worsen in the years ahead.”

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