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Thursday, June 4, 2015

 2:28 PM 

Column: Ribble tired of congressional inaction on highway bill

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

Last week President Obama signed another short-term extension funding federal infrastructure, mass transit and highway projects but Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Appleton, said that if he were Obama, he would have vetoed it.

"I'm not kicking the can down the road anymore," he said, explaining why he voted against the extension before Congress adjourned for a weeklong Memorial Day recess.

If Obama vetoed something that Congress sent over regarding transportation funding, "it would force our hands to do something," Ribble said. "If I was sitting in his chair, that's exactly what I would do. But then I voted 'no.' I registered my veto then."

Ribble's exasperation with funding long-term transportation projects with only months-long authority is shared by the White House.

The patch Obama signed was the 33rd short-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund fund since 2008, White House spokesman Josh Earnest complained last week. "According to one estimate, the uncertainty around the Highway Trust Fund has led a number of states to delay projects totaling $2 billion," he said. "So it's the President's view that the era of short-term patches and chronic under-investment in our transportation infrastructure must come to an end."

Ribble has introduced a bill that would force Congress to find a long-term source to keep the Highway Trust Fund's coffers full. It relies on the gas tax, which hasn't been raised in decades and, therefore, doesn't provide enough revenue to keep up with demand.

Ribble and fellow Republican Jim Renacci of Ohio joined Democratic Reps. Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Bill Pascrell of New Jersey in introducing the Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act in April. It would require lawmakers to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent for a decade by finding new revenue streams and implementing spending cuts, such as corporate tax repatriation and replacing the gas tax with a fee based on mileage.

House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, advocates corporate tax repatriation, which encourages U.S.-based companies to bring overseas earnings back home by offering a lower tax rate, to fill the Trust Fund's current shortfall, but acknowledges that it is a one-time fix and that Congress must find a permanent solution.

Ribble said that he and Ryan are good friends but that they fundamentally disagree on the funding issue -- Ryan doesn't support the "trigger" in Ribble's legislation that could see the gas tax rise if Congress can't decide on an alternate revenue source -- and that Ryan's committee has many priorities to juggle beyond the highway funding problem.

"This is clearly not a priority for him," Ribble said, adding that the trust fund's $16 billion shortfall pales in comparison to the costs of other problems the Ways and Means Committee deals with.

"Congressman Ryan remains opposed to raising gas taxes and is committed to finding a solution to finance our infrastructure," a Ryan spokesman said in response. "Getting an agreement on highways is a priority for Congressman Ryan as Ways and Means chairman and he will continue to work with his colleagues, like Congressman Ribble, on this issue."

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


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