Menendez, Hutchison, Boxer, Bingaman, DeMint

Morning Business/Highway bill (S. 1813)

Senator Menendez: (11:14 AM)
  • Spoke on Menendez/Burr amendment #1782 (Natural Gas Act).
    • SUMMARY "Why aren't we all driving around in natural gas vehicles paying a little over $2 per gallon equivalent? The reason this inexpensive fuel is not widely used is because there are not many natural gas vehicles in the United States and there are also very few places to refuel. Currently there are nearly 14 million natural-gas vehicles in the world, but only about 117,000 in the United States. The car and truck manufacturers want to see that natural-gas utilities will invest in refueling infrastructure, and the natural-gas utilities want to see more natural-gas vehicles on the road. So it's a classic chicken or the egg problem. What both the manufacturers and the utilities need to see is a strong stance by the federal government to jump-start this market. The NAT Gas Act will do just that by jump starting the industry and in ten years add over 700,000 natural-gas vehicles to our roads and help incentivize the installation of refueling stations around the nation. in addition, it is estimated that the bill will displace over 20 billion gallons of petroleum fuel and create over one million direct and indirect jobs. I know that some of my colleagues are thinking isn't this just another handout to energy companies and the answer to that question is a resounding "no." this legislation is fully paid for with a small fee on natural gas used as a vehicle fuel. As I mentioned earlier, natural gas is over $1.50 cheaper than gasoline or diesel. This amendment would use some of those savings to help overcome the market barriers for natural gas vehicles and supporting infrastructure. The fee starts at 2.5 cents per gallon, equivalent in 2014, and grows to be 12.5 cents in 2020 and 2021 and in 2022 the fee is eliminated. In this way, we can still keep natural gas less expensive than other fuel options while investing in infrastructure to help grow the market, make natural gas vehicles cheaper."

Senator Hutchison: (11:32 AM)
  • Spoke on Hutchison amendment #1568 (prohibit new tolls).
    • SUMMARY "I have an amendment that would basically say you cannot toll a federal highway unless it is for the production of another free lane. So it is an effort to curb a state from tolling every lane of a highway that has been built with federal dollars by federal taxpayers. When President Eisenhower established the policy that we would have a national highway system, it was really for national security that he made this monumental policy decision which has taken us years, tens of years to complete. It has had the added advantage of commerce, of course, having a national highway system where all of our states are connected with good quality federal highways has been a huge boon for our country. That has been funded through highway user fees. The gasoline tax that everyone pays at the pump in our country has funded our federal highway system. However, the highway system has now been completed. The federal highway system. For a state to come in and toll every lane of a federal highway is not only disingenuous but it really breaks the faith with the federal taxpayers who for over 50 years have paid into the highway trust fund so that we would have a federal highway system for all Americans and for the commerce among our states to use ... now we have - frankly, we have got three states that have been approved by the highway division, the Department of Transportation to do exactly what I would like to prohibit, and that is toll lanes of a federal highway that would prohibit the free use of that lane - that whole highway that has been built with federal dollars. So my amendment would keep us from going beyond the three. The amendment is two, I would extend it to three because there are three that the department of transportation has approved but I want to stop this practice. It is wrong. It is wrong for the federal government to allow it. It is wrong for the states to ask for it. we need to allow actually the opposite, and that is the opt out ability for a state to say we want to spend our highway dollars the way we believe the priority should be spent, and that's what we ought to be doing and I want to say that I don't disagree with tolls that are going to create a new free lane that would keep the faith of the people. It would expand the system and the people would be paying to expand the system. That can be done in an effective and frankly a responsible way."

Senator Boxer: (11:49 AM)
  • Unanimous Consent: The time until noon be equally divided between the two leaders or their designees, there be two minutes equally divided prior to each vote, and that all votes after the first vote following the recess be ten-minute votes.

Senator Bingaman: (11:49 AM)
  • Called up on Bingaman amendment #1759 (privatized highways)
  • Spoke on Bingaman amendment #1759 (privatized highways).
    • SUMMARY "When a state privatizes an existing toll road it shifts to the company all responsibilities for operations and maintenance in exchange for a cash payment essentially. Under existing law, privatized toll roads are still included in the calculation of how much state receives in federal highway funds. In my view, it does not make good sense for a state to be credited with federal highway funding needed to maintain that road once it has been shifted out of the public sphere to a private entity and the private entity has taken on the legal responsibility to operate and maintain the road. The amendment would simply remove these privatized toll roads from consideration when we allocate highway funds. The amendment is very narrow, it applies only when a state sells off an existing tell road. It does not apply at all to any new construction. Now, when I say it sells off an existing toll road, I mean that it enters into a lease in most cases a lease of 75 years or more to a private entity to operate a toll road and collect the tolls and maintain the road."

Senator DeMint: (11:54 AM)
  • Spoke on DeMint amendment #1756 (state authority).
    • SUMMARY "My amendment allows for states to keep their gas taxes and set their own priorities while avoiding an additional layer of Washington bureaucracy. We should devolve the federal highway program from Washington to the states. We can dramatically cut the federal gas tax to a few pennies which would be enough to fund the limited number of highway programs that serve a clear national purpose. In return, states could adjust their own gas taxes to make their own construction and repair decisions without costly rules such as Davis-Bacon regulations and without having to funnel the money through Washington's wasteful bureaucracy and some self-serving politicians. My amendment would free states from the wasteful and corrupt Davis-Bacon Act which needlessly focuses or forces the government to pay labor union wages for construction projects. Davis-Bacon harms workers who choose not to join unions and it raises the cost to taxpayers, last year by nearly $11 billion."