“YES” on Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act (S. 2280), introduced by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)Heritage ActionScorecardSen. John Hoeven42%Senate Republican AverageSee Full Scorecard42%.  The project would increase America’s energy security, create thousands of jobs, and increase revenue in the states is runs through. Pipelines are the safest way to transport oil, yet Keystone’s approval has been stalled in the upper chamber for six years.

The House has voted to approve the pipeline nine times, most recently last week.  Heritage Action key voted in favor of the House passed bill in May of 2013, noting how beneficial it would be for job creation, the environment, and energy security.  The construction of the Keystone pipeline is still in the best interest of the American people, though it is evident political calculations are a motivating factor for the current push by many Senate Democrats, most notably Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)Heritage ActionScorecardSen. Mary Landrieu4%Senate Democrat AverageSee Full Scorecard4%.

The 1,200 mile pipeline would transport 380,000 barrels of oil daily from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast and would create an estimated 15,000 jobs, something conservatives have long stated.

Although the project has also long enjoyed bipartisan support, President Obama has worked on behalf of radical environmentalists to delay its completion.  The State Department has conducted numerous reviews of the environmental impacts of the project on soil, wetlands, water resources, vegetation, fish, wildlife, and endangered species and has repeatedly confirmed it would be safe and not contribute significantly to climate change.  As the Heritage Foundation’s Nick Loris notes, “Even those who believe that climate change is heading toward catastrophic outcomes note that Keystone XL is only 0.2 percent of the ‘carbon budget.’”

For too long, the politics of the left, radical environmentalists, and President Obama and his congressional allies have stood in the way of Keystone’s construction, despite clear evidence it would produce thousands of jobs for Americans with no significant negative impact on the environment.

Heritage Action supports S. 2280 and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Heritage Action’s Legislative Scorecard

“NO” on Continuing Resolution and Extension of the Export-Import Bank (H.J. RES. 124)

Today, the Senate is expected to vote on the House-passed Continuing Appropriations Resolution (H.J. Res. 124), which would fund the government through December 11, 2014, reauthorize the Export-Import Bank until June 30, 2015 and serve as a vehicle for a key component of President Obama’s Syria strategy.

Despite his current affinity for the Ex-Im Bank, President Obama once denounced the bank, saying it “has become little more than a fund for corporate welfare.”  That characterization is undeniable — participating banks call it “free money” and multinational conglomerates like Boeing, Caterpillar and General Electric account for the bulk of the bank’s financing.  Boeing, for example, received roughly two-thirds of the bank’s loan guarantees in 2013.

“NO” on Miller-Sanders Veterans Bill (H.R. 3230)

This week, the Senate will vote on the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (H.R. 3230). The conference committee report, agreed to by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL)Heritage ActionScorecardRep. Jeff Miller72%House Republican AverageSee Full Scorecard72% and Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT)Heritage ActionScorecardSen. Bernard Sanders6%Senate Independent AverageSee Full Scorecard6%, would, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), increase direct spending by $15 billion over 10 years. Of that cost, $10 billion in emergency mandatory funding would go towards an external care option for vets who face wait times of longer than 30 days or live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. The remaining $5 billion would expand existing VA operations and other miscellaneous veterans-related programs. This $5 billion would be offset over 10 years from reforms within the VA, though the merits of those offsets are highly questionable.

Though the CBO’s recent projection reflects a total emergency cost of $10 billion, properly understood, the conference committee’s solution to the VA’s systemic inefficiencies amounts to the creation of a new entitlement that will likely increase at a rapid rate.

“NO” on Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (H.R. 5021)

Next week, the Senate will vote on the House-passed Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (H.R. 5021).  Introduced by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI)Heritage ActionScorecardRep. Dave Camp50%House Republican AverageSee Full Scorecard50%, the bill would inject $10.8 billion into the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF), marking the fifth bailout of the HTF since 2008.  The bill would offset the additional spending over the next decade through a series of revenue raisers, budget gimmicks and budget transfers.  It would also extend existing surface transportation programs until May 30, 2015.

Excessive spending levels set by highway bills enacted in recent years, and many spending diversions to non-road, non-bridge activities, have put the HTF on an unsustainable path. The aforementioned bailouts — which violated the user pays, user benefits principle that has long defined the federal highway program — were predictable and promise to be more frequent in the future.  According to the Congressional Budget Office:

“[O]utlays will exceed revenues by an estimated $167 billion over the 2015–2024 period if obligations from the fund continue at the 2014 rate (with adjustments for future inflation) and the expiring taxes on fuels and heavy vehicles are extended at their current rates.”

In 2011, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee proposed a plan that made clear the status quo was unsustainable.  “Congress must align its spending with the amount of revenue collected,” the committee wrote in their widely touted proposal.  The proposal continued:

“Driving the Trust Fund into bankruptcy may result in once again having to rely on general federal revenues and the unpredictable annual appropriations process for transportation funding. This will eliminate the necessary stability the Trust Fund provides states and transit agencies. … We must maintain the long-term viability of the Highway Trust Fund and ensure that the federal government stops spending money it does not have.”

For a variety of reasons though, namely a desire by Congress to spend in excess of revenues, the committee’s plan was discarded in favor of the Senate’s plan, which spent 42-percent more per year.

There is no economic danger in rejecting the proposed bailout and returning to the 2011 principles outlined by the House T&I committee.  The Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk explained the “700,000 jobs at risk” number floating around is the result of the White House “estimating a ‘multiplier’ effect from federal transportation spending.”  In reality, less than 300,000 Americans work in highway, street, or bridge construction.  Nor will there be a “shutdown,” as The New York Times recently noted:

“Because Washington funds about a quarter of road and transit spending, a 28 percent cut to the federal share is a 7 percent reduction to spending over all.”

Additionally, the bill offsets its ten months of spending over a ten-year period, increasing spending in the near-term with no certainty the funds will ever be fully recouped.  Specifically, the bill increases revenue by $6.4 billion through a mechanism called pension smoothing, which increases employers’ taxable income by changing the calculation used to minimum pension contribution levels to some employees.  The disdain for pension smoothing is broad based.  The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget calls it “phantom savings” and “merely illusory.” The Heritage Foundation warned it “would merely shift tax revenue from the future into the present while destabilizing pensions even further and increasing the risks of a taxpayer pension bailout.”

Another $3.5 billion comes from a one-year extension of customs user fees.  The authority is scheduled to expire in 2023, but there is no question that authority will be extended at that time with or without this bill.  When first enacted in 1985, the fees were “permanent,” meaning they did not have an expiration date.  A year later they were made “temporary” and given an expiration date of 1989.  Since then, the fees have regularly been extended, often times well in advance to serve as a budget offset.  This is a scoring change (simply extending policy through the budget window), not a policy change.

An inability to control spending combined with costly regulations that inflate the cost of projects has rendered the HTF model functionally obsolete.  With each bailout, the link between highway spending and gas taxes is degraded, making it increasingly difficult to enact structural reforms that turn over the federal highway and transit programs to the states, so they can manage their transportation needs without Washington bureaucrats.

As Heritage Action’s chief executive officer Michael A. Needham noted last week:

“Instead of governing by emergency fiat and continually kicking the can down the road, conservative reformers have an opportunity to focus their colleagues and their constituents on a real solution — putting more of this authority in the hands of states and localities and actually reforming highway policy. There is an undeniable appetite for reform.  Dozens of members, including four members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, have cosponsored TEA and many more are taking a close look or working on their own alternative.”

Heritage Action opposes H.R. 5021 and will include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard.

Heritage Action Scorecard
Federalist: Republican Should Stop Bailing Out the Highway Trust Fund
Highway Funding: Is 7 Percent a Crisis?
Highway Funding: 700,000 Lost Jobs?
Another Highway Bailout
Four T&I Committee Members Co-Sponsor Conservative Transportation Legislation (H.R. 4386)
Heritage: Bringing Transportation Decisions Closer to the People: Why States and Localities Should Have More Control


“YES” on Lee Amendment (S. 1702, Transportation Empowerment Act)

Next week, the Senate will vote on the Lee Amendment to the House-passed Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (H.R. 5021).  Introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)Heritage ActionScorecardSen. Mike Lee96%Senate Republican AverageSee Full Scorecard96%, the Transportation Empowerment Act (S. 1702) would empower states by allowing them to keep and control their gasoline tax revenues, set their infrastructure priorities, control their transportation decisions, and partner with the private sector to meet local needs.

Currently, American motorists and truckers pay a federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon at the pump; the money is funneled into the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and funneled back to the states via complex congressional formulas, and billions are diverted each year to programs that do not improve congestion.  The current system increases the cost of projects — Davis-Bacon, for example, increases the cost of construction projects by ten percent — and subjects what should be local decisions to the whims of Washington bureaucrats or influential lobbyists.

Put another way, the federal government serves as little more than an expensive pass through for the remainder of transportation funding – one could compare it to a skimming scheme that enriches and empowers folks in Washington to the detriment of those in state capitals across the country.  The states and private sector have proven more efficient users of taxpayer money, while the federal government through the Highway Trust Fund has wasted an unjustifiable amount of money through inefficiency, burdensome regulations, and distracting politicization—not to mention paying for the pet projects of lawmakers and special interests.