By Stephen Ohlemacher
WASHINGTON (AP) — With money for roads and bridges running out, House Republicans are working on a package to extend highway funding through the end of the year, a top GOP congressman said Friday.
At the end of July, the federal government will no longer have enough money to pay for all of the nation’s road and bridge projects, at the height of construction season.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters that the five-month package would cost $8 billion. He says it would be paid for with provisions that both Republicans and Democrats could support, though he declined to identify them.
“I think we’ll be able to put together a package that is fairly innocuous, kind of boring stuff,” said Ryan, who chairs the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
Congressional Democrats have criticized Republicans for their inability to come up with a long-term solution for highway funding, something Democrats also struggled with when they had majorities in Congress.
“We’ve had 33 extensions of the highway bill. It would be laughable if they offered another short-term extension,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in an interview. “Let’s see what happens. Unless we have some pathway for a long-term highway bill I don’t see it happening.”
Ryan said a five-month extension would give Congress time to work on a longer-term package, while providing lawmakers with a much-needed deadline. Ryan does not think House Republicans would support a longer extension, of 18 months or two years.
The ultimate goal for House Republicans is a 6-year package paid for with revenue from overhauling the taxes U.S. businesses pay on profits generated in other countries, he said.
“If you want to do a longer highway bill we’re going to have to do an extension,” Ryan said.
The trust fund that pays for highway projects periodically runs out of money because the federal gasoline tax doesn’t raise enough money to fund all the spending approved by Congress.
The tax is 18.4 cents a gallon. It generates about $35 billion a year, and the federal government spends about $50 billion a year on transportation projects. Congress would have to come up with an additional $90 billion to $100 billion over the next six years to fund a long-term measure.
A Senate committee unanimously approved a six-year highway bill last month, but it didn’t come with any funding.
Congress has struggled for years to come up with a new source of funding. Republicans in Congress adamantly oppose raising the gas tax.
A bipartisan framework emerged in the Senate this week to overhaul the U.S. system of taxing the foreign profits of U.S. companies. The proposal could generate billions for roads and bridges, though the total is uncertain. Ryan embraced the framework, but acknowledged many important details remain to be worked out.
The proposal was written by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Schumer is the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate and is expected to take over as the Democratic leader after Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., retires at the end of 2016.
Their framework would require U.S.-based corporations to pay a one-time tax on up to $2 trillion in foreign profits that U.S. firms have parked overseas. The tax rate has not been determined, but it would be considerably less than the 35 percent corporate income tax rate currently in effect, according to the plan.
The tax would generate money for infrastructure improvements — how much would depend on the tax rate.
Going forward, the plan would allow U.S. corporations to exempt more of their foreign profits from U.S. taxes.
The Senate is expected to take up a highway funding bill next week, though Senate leaders haven’t released details.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was skeptical that Congress would be able to use revenue from a tax overhaul to fund infrastructure repairs.
“I don’t think Republicans in the Senate are against what we’re doing,” Ryan said. “I just don’t know if they think it can be done.”Follow @stephenatap