Washington — The U.S. 90 bridge over Chef Menteur Pass in eastern New Orleans played a featured role Tuesday at the rollout of a bipartisan U.S. Senate proposal for renewing federal spending on roads and highways over the next six years.
And Sen. David Vitter, R-La., took a turn in the spotlight at the announcement news conference as one of the “big four” on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in the words of Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
Approval of the proposal by the full Senate “would be a major step to move the economy forward,” Vitter said at the lectern. “I’m going to keep pushing so we get that done.”
Vitter said that goal is “achievable” this year, unlike Senate passage of other also desirable but more ambitious proposals, such as comprehensive tax reform. Although Vitter’s current Senate term extends through 2016, this will be his last year in Washington if he achieves his own goal of election as governor of Louisiana this fall.
The Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy Act, or DRIVE proposal, lays out a blueprint for federal spending on roads, highways and bridges. But the measure does not include a means for paying for the work, which Inhofe said would require $90 billion in additional spending above currently funded levels over the next six years.
The plan puts a priority on spending on freight movement and on repairs to bridges like the one at Chef Menteur, which was pictured in a slide show played during the news conference.
The other members of the big four are from the committee’s Democratic minority: Barbara Boxer, of California, and Tom Carper, of Delaware. They also spoke in favor of the bill, which the committee is expected to send to the full Senate later this week. Other Senate committees will need to act on the proposal to advance it -- including the Finance Committee, which would be responsible for figuring out how to pay for it -- and any deal ultimately must clear the House to go to the president for signature.
The main source of federal spending on roads and bridges is the Highway Trust Fund, which is financed by taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel. But the fund has spent more than it has collected in recent years, with transfers from other accounts making up the difference. The most recent short-term extension of authority for spending from the fund was approved earlier this year and expires Aug. 1.
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