The transportation bill unveils their intentions.
Forget the fratricidal warfare between two establishment soldiers so harmonious on substance that their contest, inevitably, has descended into a poisonous, personal food-fight. The problem is not the GOP infighting. The problem is the GOP. Republicans are simply not interested in limiting government or addressing our death spiral of spending.
My weekend column was about the dog-and-pony show that congressional Republicans just put on to snow you into thinking they oppose the $2.4 trillion debt-ceiling increase they actually approved only six months ago. Now, get ready for House Republicans to unveil their $260 billion transportation bill.
The federal government should not be in the transportation business at all. A federal role was rationalized in the mid-Fifties to finance the construction of interstate highways. As National Review’s editors observed in 2005, that project was completed in the early Eighties, at which time the fuel tax that funded it should have been repealed and the upkeep of highways left to the states. “Instead,” they wrote, “Congress morphed the program into a slush fund for some of its most indefensible pork-barrel spending.”
The cover story for this permanent spendathon is that we now have a national highway “system” that ought to be financed by its main users. “Systems” is the abracadabra chanted by the progressives who run both parties when they’re about to pick your pocket. We don’t have a highway “system.” We have 50 states, whose widely varying transit needs are best known, and can be best addressed, by the affected local communities.
Plus, see how easily a “highway system” morphs into a “transportation system.” The taxes that Leviathan confiscates from drivers, purportedly for road construction and maintenance, are actually redistributed to subsidize other forms of transit preferred by progressives — including walking. For that, you can thank Republicans. With a compassionate wink from President Bush, the Republican Congress enacted an obscene $286.5 billion transportation bill in 2005, assigning the act one of those precious Washington acronyms — SAFETEA-LU (who cares what it stands for?). The editors accurately described it as a “monstrosity of wasteful spending.”
SAFETEA-LU featured all the uglies that outraged voters into telling the GOP to take a hike in the 2006 and 2008 elections. These included Alaska’s infamous $250 million “Bridge to Nowhere,” one of the bill’s 6,376 earmarks totaling $24 billion — you know, the sorts of budget-busting recklessness Republicans promised us they’d sworn off in order to get elected in 2010.
One of SAFETEA-LU’s worst aspects — and that’s saying something — was that it blew to smithereens the premise that federal transportation spending must be limited to the federal fuel-tax receipts collected to pay for it. As Red State’s Ross Vought explains, the Republican Congress increased expenditures on transportation by a whopping 31 percent. As the pols well knew, that was leaps and bounds beyond what the fuel tax would generate, especially given that collections flag when spiking gas prices reduce driving.