U.S. House approves $325 billion in highway funding, raises ‘corporate welfare’ bank from the dead
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The U.S. House of Representative voted Thursday to approve a bipartisan bill that reauthorizes the Highway Trust Fund and the Export Import Bank.
The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015 includes a six-year transportation funding bill—the first long-term bill passed in several years. The bill seeks to improve the nation’s infrastructure through reforming transportation programs, authorizing $325 billion to fund roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs, while deferring much of the planning and decision making to state and local governments.
Representative Martha Roby (R-AL) said that this bill is important because roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure make up the backbone of commerce. Furthermore, the open process for the bill allowed for debate, which Roby believes allowed legislators an opportunity to give constructive feedback on the bill.
“It’s important for the Congress to do its job and that is to fund federal infrastructure. This is our responsibility. I believe because of the open process that has been put in place – more than 100 amendments made in order – that, when we get to the final product, it will be something that conservative Republicans can vote for,” Roby said.
Several Republican representatives have expressed their approval of the passage of the bill. Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) said that the passage of the bill was “very good news for the I-10 bridge project and other major road projects in Southwest Alabama.”
Rep. Terri Sewell said that the passage of The Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act, also called the DRIVE Act, was a step in the right direction.
“By making smart, strategic investments in our aging infrastructure, Congress will create more good-paying jobs for Americans and boost commerce,” Sewell explained. “While this bill is not perfect, today’s vote for the DRIVE Act was certainly a step in the right direction towards providing critical investments in infrastructure maintenance and development.”
The bill also includes an amendment reauthorizing the controversial Export Import Bank. The Ex-Im Bank finances exports for American companies that would be too risky for traditional lenders by making guaranteed loans to the foreign purchasers of those exports. While the bank’s charter mandates at least 20 percent its outlays benefit small businesses, that rule has been frequently violated.
Several legislators, including Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), believe that it’s time to put an end to the controversial Ex-Im Bank.
“After years of efforts to reform the Ex-Im Bank, it has become clear to me that its problems are beyond repair and that the Bank’s expiration is in the best interest of American taxpayers,” Sen. Shelby told Yellowhammer. “Nearly 99% of all American exports are financed without the Ex-Im Bank, which demonstrates that subsidies are more about corporate welfare than advancing our economy.”
The bank has received vocal support from many business groups, but some conservative organizations, including The Heritage Foundation’s political arm Heritage Action, have waged a campaign against it, calling it the epitome of corporate welfare. Nick Barden, Education Coordinator for Heritage Action, said that the “open process” wasn’t actually as open as some are claiming.
“This process, praised by many Republicans for its openness, was not a full-blown open amendment process. The Rules Committee still exercised control over which amendments would be allowed on the floor, even though they allowed a greater number than they have in recent history. All of the conservative amendments considered still failed on the floor,” said Barden.
“It is possible that Republicans will vote for the bill because the process is ‘a step in the right direction.’ That may or may not be the case, but it is not worth the overwhelmingly bad policy embraced by this bill,” Barden said.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has refused to take up a stand alone bill reviving the bank, he appears willing to allow a vote on it as an amendment to the transportation bill.
A conference committee between the House and Senate is expected to be called, with final votes on the bill being held in the next few weeks.