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An “Unserious” White House Proposal

Posted by Ken Orski on Friday, February 24th, 2012

Innovation NewsBriefs
Vol. 23, No. 8

The Administration’s  $476 billion six-year transportation reauthorization proposal —included  as part of its FY 2013 budget submission —has met with indifference if not outright skepticism in the Washington transportation community. For one thing, the proposal comes at a time when both houses of Congress  have already developed and are actively pursuing their own versions of  reauthorization legislation.  For another thing,  the White House proposal is a close replica of the  FY 2012 reauthorization proposal  — a proposal  that had  been soundly rejected last year by the Republican House and  the Democratic-controlled Senate alike.  Lastly, the White House proposal is viewed –both in its levels of spending  and its approach to funding — as totally disconnected from political reality   The New York Times called it   “more a campaign document than a legislative proposal.”
The  six-year budget provides a total of $305 billion for highways, $108 billion for transit and $47 billion for high-speed rail. It calls for an average  funding level of $79 billion/year — almost double the $40-42 billion/year  proposed in the House and Senate reauthorization bills.
The total spending authority over six years would exceed the expected revenues by $231 billion. To offset this deficit, the Administration proposes to use  “savings” achieved from “reduced Overseas Contingency Operations”—  bureaucratic jargon for  ending military operations in Iraq and Afganistan. Such offsets have been dismissed as “an accounting gimmick,” “imaginary” and “meaningless” by  both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Budget committee during recent hearings on the Administration’s bill.  
The White House has not helped itself  by announcing that  “After the six-year reauthorization period, the Administration is committed to working with the Congress on a financing mechanism.” (p.158 of the DOT budget). In effect,  the White House is saying, Let  the next  Administration figure out how to pay for the program. For our part, let’s  just pretend it’s paid for with an imaginary “peace dividend” from ramping down overseas military operations.
Senate Minority Leader  Mitch McConnell  (R-KY) has called the FY 2013 budget submission  “so unserious and political that even members of the President’s own party don’t want to have anything to do with it.”  Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the Budget Committee’s ranking member, described the proposal as “not connected to reality.”  Few Congressional aides we have talked to had anything charitable  to say about it.   In sum, the White House reauthorization proposal, like its FY 2012 version,  is considered “dead on arrival.”
As one Washington wit put it,  “it makes you wonder why the Administration keeps coming up with the same proposals over and over again and expecting different results.  Didn’t Einstein say…?

C. Kenneth Orski is a public policy consultant and former principal of the Urban Mobility Corporation. He has worked professionally in the field of transportation for over 30 years, in both the public and private sector. He is editor and publisher of Innovation NewsBriefs, now in its 22nd year of publication.

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One Response to “An “Unserious” White House Proposal”

  1. Blaine Peterson says:

    The ~$80B per year seems like a drop in the bucket when compared to the ~$750B the Administration spends on national defense each year. I don’t recall every hearing about a Bill that sought approval for the hundreds of billions of $$$ that needed to be borrowed to fight wars in the middle east.

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