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US politicians fight over transport spending cuts

Republican and Democrat Congressman are locked in battle this week over future funding levels for highways and rail in the US.

Last week the Republican-led Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure set out proposals for a $230bn (£143bn) six-year transport plan.

But this was immediately attacked by Democrats on the committee, who said the plan would leave America on the “road to ruin”. They support US president Barack Obama’s proposal for £350bn to spent over the same six period.

Democrat Obama’s plans need approval from the Republican-led Congress. In the US, federal transport spending is formalised in a transportation bill, signed off by the President, Congress and the Senate. Without a bill it is illegal to spend federal funds, which are collected from states via taxes on fuel and deposited in a Highway Trust Fund. The last bill expired in 2009 and authorised £185bn of spending, since then funding has continued on a pro-rata basis via short-term extensions.

Business and transport lobby groups have long campaigned for a bill sanctioning spending of between £290bn and £324bn, funded through an increase in fuel tax.

But the Republican-led Congresss is committed to keeping a lid on spending and have ruled out increases in fuel tax.

Transportation Committee chairman John Mica said his long term plan is the only “fiscally responsible” proposal and will ensure the continued solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

“Given US House rules and budget constraints, this proposal maximizes the value of our available infrastructure funding through better leveraging, streamlining the project approval process, attracting private sector investment, and cutting the federal bureaucracy,” Mica said. “Most importantly, this six-year proposal provides the stability states need to plan major transportation improvements and create long-term jobs.

“While some continue to advocate the same old tax-and-spend approach, I prefer a new direction,” Mica continued.

But Democrats on the committee said the plans were “mindless”.

“While we have yet to see much of the details of this legislation, based on the funding levels alone, it appears that this bill can best be called the ‘Republican Road to Ruin’ because it would take our Nation in the wrong direction,” said Nick Rahall, the Democratic leader on the full committee. “The dramatic, mindless cuts proposed to surface transportation programs will destroy nearly 500,000 American jobs next year alone, undermine our Nation’s long-term economic competitiveness, and jeopardize our economic recovery.”

“While our competitors are moving forward, this bill will leave us stuck in a ditch, putting American businesses at a disadvantage with companies around the world,” said Rahall.

Mica responded by inviting Democrat Committee leaders who are asking for higher spending levels to appear with him before the Congress Ways and Means Committee to discuss revenue issues.

He said his proposal of £143bn spending matches current revenue being deposited into the Highway Trust Fund and comply with House rules that do not permit authorisation of more funds than those collected.

“It is disappointing and sad that some Democrats have launched a personal and partisan attack on the Republican proposal for a six-year transportation reauthorisation,” said Mica this week.

“The outline responsibly presents how we can dramatically leverage Highway Trust Fund dollars within the current spending rules and restrictions imposed by the House-adopted budget.”

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