Earlier this week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to lawmakers urging swift and definitive action on "America's impending fiscal cliff." Given the dire economic predictions of the "largest tax increase in American history," the Chamber's plea is likely to resonate with lawmakers, especially when combined with President Clinton's latest gaffe.
But the Chamber understandably wants more than tax certainty:
Action cannot stop with the tax system. We urge you to develop a long term plan to address America's excessive spending, particularly entitlement spending. Such a plan should substantially and quickly reduce the current deficit, stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio and put it on a downward trajectory within five years, and approach a balanced budget within 10 years.
Noticeably thin on details, the letter simply urged lawmakers to go about "prioritizing spending cuts."
Less than an hour later, lawmakers and their staffs learned that highway and transit programs are apparently off the table when it comes to such prioritization. In yet another letter, the Chamber urged lawmakers not to "slash funding for highways, transit and safety programs."
In the Chamber's crosshairs is a motion to instruct conferees offered by Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA) that simply insists funding for Federal highway and transit programs be limited to levels that can be supported by Highway Trust Fund (HTF) revenues, without transfers from the general fund of the Treasury or other sources. In other words, it would prevent another round of bailouts of the trust fund, which have already cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.
Heritage Action is key voting YES on the motion, which is the same commonsense policy that 235 House Republicans voted in favor of on April 15, 2011 when they adopted the Ryan Budget. Just ten days before that vote, the Chamber applauded House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and said his budget would "trigger a debate over the size and scope of government and spending priorities" that is "long overdue."
Of course, having this "long overdue" debate is infinitely more difficult when one side is peddling misleading and false arguments. The Obama administration has attacked discretionary cuts in the House-passed budget, saying they would "degrade many of the basic Government services on which the American people rely."
Now, the Chamber is deploying similar hyperbolic rhetoric against the Broun motion, claiming it "would have a real and profound impact on federal safety programs." The letter goes on to imply "traffic fatalities and serious injuries" could increase as a result. The facts could not be further from the truth though. Last summer, when House Republicans outlined a highway and transit reauthorization that did not bankrupt the trust fund, they took great pains to reaffirm safety provisions.
Bluntly, none of this is about safety or "maximiz[ing] every federal dollar," but rather securing every dollar possible. Simply put, the Chamber's dueling letters are typical of the Washington spin machine, and yet another example of "your" spending is excessive, but "mine" is essential. If allowed to continue unabated, it will stymie the sort of necessary reforms our country needs to avoid a fiscal crisis.