CHN: House Uses Funding Meant for Unemployment to Pay for Highway Bill Patch
The House on Tuesday passed (367-55) a bill to fund road, bridge, and public transportation projects through May 2015, but they paid for the package with the same revenue sources the Senate had set aside to pay for its Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) bill. The Transportation Department had previously stated that, without congressional action, the federal Highway Trust Fund would run out of money in August, causing states to halt transportation projects around the country and causing 700,000 jobs to be lost. H.R. 5021 replenishes the Highway Trust Fund for ten months at a cost of $10.8 billion over ten years.
While advocacy groups agree that the loss of jobs and work stoppage associated with a lack of funds is unacceptable, they were also enraged the majority of the money used to pay for this bill was taken from the same sources (namely “pension smoothing” and customs user fees) that could have been used to restore unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, an effort that is estimated to cost nearly $10 billion for five months (the House bill would also transfer $1 billion from a fund designed to clean up underground oil leaks to the Highway Trust Fund to make up the difference of the additional cost). This enragement was further fueled by the House passage last week of a permanent extension of the bonus depreciation tax break for businesses at a cost of $287 billion, which was not paid for. For more information on the bonus depreciation tax cut, see the related article in this edition of the Human Needs Report. To leave your comments on this controversy, see last week’s Head Smacker post on our blog, Voices for Human Needs.
The Senate is expected to take up H.R. 5021 this week. According to CQ, they are also expected to vote on two amendments – one which would replace the House bill with a very similar version of the bill previously passed by the Senate Finance Committee, and the other which would only top off the fund until December 2014 rather than May 2015. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) may also offer two partisan amendments which Democrats will likely reject, but which could slow down the process towards the bill’s passage. Members of Congress of both parties agree that a long-term fix for the fund is needed.