Hatch: Highway Bill a Historic Opportunity to Secure Nation’s Infrastructure

In a speech today on the Senate floor, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voiced his support for a historic bipartisan bill to fund America’s roads, highways, and bridges for a full three years without increasing taxes or adding to the deficit. 

The measure, which reauthorizes the nation’s highway programs for six years, marks the longest funded multi-year highway bill in more than a decade.

“This bipartisan bill provides us with a historic opportunity when it comes to highway funding.  It would provide the longest extension of highway funding we’ve seen in over a decade,” said Hatch.   “Passage of this bill would be a significant victory for good government.  And, of course, it would provide a great example of what is possible when members of both parties work together.”

The complete speech, as prepared for delivery, is below:

Mr. President, after last night’s cloture vote, we are one step closer to providing a long-term solution to the shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund.  Soon we will begin debate on legislation that will provide more clarity and certainty to our states and to highway builders and workers throughout the country.

Earlier this week, I was very pleased to learn that our distinguished Majority Leader and the Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee were able to reach a bipartisan agreement to authorize and fund a long-term highway extension.  I want to commend both of them – and everyone who was involved in putting this bill together – for their hard work and willingness to put partisanship aside in order to help the American people.

Now, the rest of us need to follow their example.  I want to express my support for this bipartisan highway bill and urge all of my Senate colleagues to do the same.

The legislation that we’ll soon be debating would authorize expenditures from the Highway Trust Fund for six years and provide three years of funding.  It would do so without adding a dime to the deficit and without raising taxes. 

Over the last few months, we’ve all heard from the naysayers who claimed that such a feat was impossible, that there was no path forward to provide long-term highway funding without a massive tax increase.  I’m pleased to see that our colleagues have provided us with such a path – all we have to do is be willing to walk down it.

This bipartisan bill provides us with a historic opportunity when it comes to highway funding.  It would provide the longest extension of highway funding we’ve seen in over a decade. 

I know my colleagues on the other side of the aisle – including some who will likely come out against this bill – like to point to the 2012 MAP-21 legislation as a paragon for how Congress should consider and pass a long-term highway bill.  Of course, MAP-21 extended highway funding for only two years.  The legislation we’ll be debating later this week will go for a significantly longer period of time. 

In short, Mr. President, passage of this bill would be a significant victory for good government.  And, of course, it would provide a great example of what is possible when members of both parties work together.

Of course, we’ve seen a number of those types of examples in the Senate this year. 

For example, earlier this year, we passed legislation to permanently repeal and replace the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate system, a problem that had plagued Congress and our health care system for years.  Shortly thereafter, we passed a bipartisan bill to combat human trafficking.  And, of course, after that, members from both parties and both chambers came together to renew Trade Promotion Authority and update our trade laws for the 21st Century.

The Senate is working again, Mr. President.  And, I don’t think it’s going to stop any time soon. 

I think the highway bill will be the next item we add to the long list of bipartisan victories we’ve achieved in the Senate under the current leadership.   We just need to keep moving this bill forward. 

Of course, the bill isn’t perfect.  Anyone who is desperate to find a reason to vote against this legislation could likely scour through the text and find one. 

The pay-fors in the bill, at least as far as I’m concerned, don’t all represent ideal policy choices.  But, we shouldn’t hold a good a bill hostage while we search for perfection.  Indeed, as I’ve said a number of times here on the floor in recent months, I’ve been here in the Senate for 38 years and, in that time, I don’t remember voting on very many bills that I thought were perfect. 

This is a good bill, Mr. President. 

It’s not meant to be a partisan wish list or a political messaging vehicle.  It provides a serious and workable solution to a legitimate problem and it was designed to get support from members of both parties. 

Once again, I want to commend my colleagues for their work on getting us this close to a solution on highways. 

Now, as we all know, the House has taken a different path with regard to highway funding.  They’ve sent over a six-month patch with the intention of using that time to work on a solution that would both fix problems in our tax code AND provide for long-term highway funding. 

The idea of linking highways to tax reform has a lot of support here in Washington.  Like I said, that is the path the House has opted to go.  And, I know that leaders in the Obama Administration have a similar vision.

I want to make one thing clear: I support tax reform.  I have been and will continue to be the most outspoken member of the Senate in favor of robust, bipartisan tax reform.  And, I agree with many of my colleagues that linking that effort to highway funding makes a lot of sense.

Luckily, the Senate’s highway bill will allow us to continue to pursue that path.

Keep in mind, Mr. President, that, under this bill, we will have three years additional authorized highway expenditures to pay for when all is said and done.  This means that, whenever we can agree on a tax reform package, whether it’s six months from now or later, it will still be possible – and likely just as sensible – to tie to the two efforts together. 

My colleagues also need to keep in mind that, while this legislation addresses the immediate need for highway funding, the fundamental issues that fuel the need for tax reform will remain in place. 

We’ll still face an increasing number of corporate inversions and foreign takeovers.  Our tax rates will still be too high.  And, our tax code will still be altogether too complicated and burdensome. 

In other words, if Congress passes this bipartisan, long-term highway bill, we will still be under enormous pressure to fix our nation’s broken tax code and to provide relief to struggling job creators and taxpayers throughout the country.

No one should question that, Mr. President. 

Once again, I urge my colleagues – on both sides of the aisle – to support this bipartisan highway package.  It provides a realistic path forward to a solution that all of us want to see. 

Traditionally, members of both parties have been able to come together to deal with our nation’s infrastructure.  For the sake of our citizens who need better roads and highways, our builders, engineers, and job creators who want to grow and expand, and our workers who need good jobs, I hope we can do so again with this important legislation.