Tax Law

Transportation Bill Defeat: Congressional Business as Usual

Following a familiar pattern, and to the surprise of no one, the Long-Term Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011 (S. 1786) was defeated this week by six votes.  Only Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) broke from party ranks in this instance, yet another display of partisan posturing and finger-pointing.  Because this result (nothing getting done) is the "new normal," the common man's interest in the political process is bound to wane incrementally into deepening states of apathy and ennui.

But what happened with this particular bill?  The need to extend funding beyond next April for the Highway Trust Fund established under IRC Section 9503 is fundamental in everyone's mind.  But reasons for the partisan divide in this case are of the garden variety.  Simply stated, the Republican theme's focus is on funding infrastructure projects by economizing on other government programs, thereby obviating the need to increase taxes for anybody. As usual, tax increases are synonymous with malignant tumors, as the GOP sees things, and the need to shield, and curry favor with, the private sector is beyond compelling.  Orrin Hatch (R-UT) says that S. 1786 purports to provide sufficient funds for our basic infrastructure needs "without imposing permanent, job-killing, higher taxes during a national unemployment emergency. See TNT 214-32 - TaxAnalysts® Tax Notes Today (11/4/2011) . Whatever the merits, the GOP mantra here is consistent, citing the ongoing need to promote certainty in the markets; to hold unaccountable bureaucracies at bay; to radically reduce government waste; etc.... - all in the interest of advancing job creation, reducing the national debt, and taking significant steps back toward economic competitiveness in global markets.

Obviously, had the bill passed and somehow reached President Obama's desk, it would have met its certain demise there. As with so many other bill introduced by the GOP, the Obama administration sees S. 1786 as one that would inflict untold damage on essential social and environmental programs that must stand in place without interference of any kind because our very survival depends on their uninterrupted viability as fixtures of the national culture. See TNT 214-36 - TaxAnalysts® Tax Notes Today (11/4/2011).

Rhetorical concerns expressed by Democrats reacting to this bill (and so many others) focus on inferred GOP objectives to:

  • neutralize the Clean Air Act  and the Environmental Protection Agency, thereby irreparably impairing the public's health; 
  • pull the plug on powers conferred on executive agencies by imposing congressional oversight and approval requirements; and
  • last but not least, blocking fundamental public health and safety standards.

No wonder the Dems and GOP continue talking past each other and languishing congressional performance persists.  S. 1786 isn't front-and-center with the electorate right now; there are many flashier stories attracting attention.  But still, S. 1786 illustrates why the voter anger meter is setting records. Voter anger could actually trump voter apathy in 2012: According to a recent New York Times - CBS  News poll, just 33 percent of registered voters believe that their own member of Congress should be re-elected. By now, everyone realizes that congressional office holders need to do some serious tap dancing to restore credibility with their constituents, even if they have done nothing in office that they had not promised to get elected.

In this kind of atmosphere, who believes that anything significant can get done?  The answer is: Nobody believes it. Conventional wisdom maintains that we all have to wait until the end of 2012 to get anything meaningful off dead center.


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