Highway Trust Fund fix stalls in Senate; but it’s not dead

| 7/31/2008

The U.S. Senate failed to pass a tax-extender bill this week that contained an amendment to send $8 billion to the Highway Trust Fund.

The larger tax-extender package, S3335, contained the amendment that would have restored $8 billion to the Trust Fund that was diverted to other programs in 1998. Senators who opposed the tax-extenders bill used a filibuster to block S3335 on Wednesday, July 30.

Senators voted 51-43 to break the filibuster, but they failed to garner a 60-percent majority to proceed, which effectively killed any further consideration of the bill.

Without a short-term fix on Capitol Hill, the Highway Trust Fund will be running a deficit in 2009, officials say.

The House of Representatives approved the Trust Fund fix as a stand-alone bill on July 23. The House vote of 387-37 drew accolades from highway user groups including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the American Highway Users Alliance.

OOIDA and Alliance officials say the Senate filibuster is a minor setback this late in the Senate schedule, but they said they remain optimistic that it will somehow get done.

“With a shortfall expected in the Highway Trust Fund’s Highway Account for fiscal year 2009, states could face federal funding cuts of approximately 34 percent – nearly $14 billion,” Highway Users Alliance officials stated.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, said in a recent congressional hearing that the Trust Fund must be fixed and that the diversion in 1998 left taxpayers on the hook.

“The Senate has included a fix in a number of bills and the House passed a fix (recently) that would repay the Highway Trust Fund $8 billion that was transferred from the Trust Fund to the General Fund in 1998. Some critics of this fix have labeled it a bailout of the Trust Fund by the General Fund,” he said.

“This is inaccurate and purposefully deceptive. This is just restoring money taken from the highway trust fund. This $8 billion was paid by American motorists with the expectation that the money would be reinvested into our transportation network.”

Inhofe said the Senate has a number of options for dealing with the Trust Fund fix including amendments to other bills up for consideration.

– By David Tanner, staff writer
Senior Editor Jami Jones contributed to this report.