Nelson votes yes, Rubio no on highway bill
The U.S. Senate approved a sweeping highway bill that will spend more than $100 billion on highway projects over two years and includes other provisions such as a deal preventing a doubling of interest on student loans and the Restore Act sending billions to Florida and other Gulf states.
Sen. Bill Nelson, who helped shepherd the Restore Act, voted yes. Sen. Marco Rubio voted no. The Senate vote was 74-19. The House cleared the measure by a 373-52 vote.
“This is going to send billions of dollars in fines against BP directly to Florida and the other Gulf Coast states that were harmed by the oil spill,” Nelson said.
Rubio, the only Gulf state senator to vote no, posted a long explanation on his website. "Today, Congress continued its all too familiar custom of making up for months of wasted time by lumping in a wide range of unrelated ideas into one giant bill," he wrote. "As a result, I voted against final passage because, while it contains some policies I support and that are good for Florida and our nation, as a whole, the bill spends too much and relies on budget gimmicks as spending offsets that will ultimately lead to a federal bailout down the road."
"Below are my views of several key issues contained in the legislation that was voted on today:
When the RESTORE Act came up for a vote earlier this year, I voted it against it because it had been significantly altered with new tax increases to pay for BP’s mess as well as new spending projects across the country that have nothing to do with Gulf Coast restoration. I’m pleased that we were able to draw enough attention to these problematic measures that they are now gone from this legislation. Unfortunately, by lumping in a good public policy like the RESTORE Act with a much larger bill, I cannot support the overall flawed bill. During my campaign, I promised Floridians that my support for legislation would not be based solely on how Florida would benefit but how, as a whole, the bill would impact our state and nation. Therefore, while I fully support the RESTORE Act now that it has been returned to its original version, I cannot support the overall bill.
The bill’s provision regarding the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is one that I support. I believe a lapse in flood insurance coverage would be devastating for the already fragile housing industry and Florida’s economy. If this proposal came up as a stand-alone bill, I would vote for it.
As someone who is still paying off student loans from law school, I was particularly interested in the debate on preventing the student loan rates for new loans from doubling on July 1. All along, I have said that I support maintaining the current rate and supported a responsible solution that would be paid for with a real spending offset. Instead, today’s legislation relied on an accounting gimmick to pay for it; therefore, I could not support it.
Finally, let’s address the original purpose of this bill before all of these aforementioned unrelated measures were lumped in: funding our nation’s infrastructure and surface transportation system.
Among the encouraging aspects of the transportation bill is limited funding for transportation “enhancement” spending projects that, while helping beautify our roads, are not a wise use of already limited tax dollars. It also includes a measure I introduced to streamline and expedite multimodal projects. Finally, I’m also pleased two of my other amendments made it into the final bill. One would help states considering road construction on or adjacent to military bases for evacuation routes, while another would improve transparency requirements for projects of regional and national significance.
However, the bill as a whole still continues an overly dominant federal control of our nation’s highway system and relies on spending offsets spread out over 10 years for a two year bill. This means that Congress will likely have to appropriate more taxpayer dollars to bailout the Highway Trust Fund in the near future since gas tax revenues are falling.
In sum, while this bill does contain some worthy ideas – including the original RESTORE Act and the NFIP extension, among others – it still spends too much, relies on accounting gimmicks and does nothing to prevent American taxpayers from the looming bailout of the Highway Trust Fund.