Hatch Statement at
Finance Committee Markup on Tax Portion of Two-Year Surface
February 11, 2012
U.S. Senator Orrin
Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, today
delivered the following opening statement at a committee markup on the
Highway Investment, Job Creation and Economic Growth Act of 2012:
First off, I want to thank you for maintaining the Finance Committee’s
key role in reauthorizing the highway program. It is critical to the
functioning of the Senate that its committees be allowed to perform
The authorizing committees have acted. Now, it is time for this
committee to do its part. Taking this bill through the Finance Committee
process allows for a full examination of the funding stream for the
current program. The formality of this process, with the opportunity to
debate and amend the Chairman’s mark, insures that the policy is
properly vetted for everyone to see.
The challenges for this committee are significant since the agreement
that informed the last highway bill has been taken over by events. Back
in 2004, this committee, and this committee alone, found roughly $24
billion in additional revenue for the next six years of the program.
Some of that revenue consisted of permanent policy changes that raised
revenue in the trust fund and did not impair the trust fund. Other
policy changes grossed up the trust fund and then used unrelated general
fund revenue raisers to hold harmless the general fund.
In the meantime, demands on the trust fund grew. What’s more, the
recession and other factors caused highway revenues to decline.
What that means is that the meeting of the minds that led to the 2005
highway bill — with this committee in the lead — has come to a dead end.
Trust fund spending far outpaces trust fund revenues, and there is no
getting around the fact that we need to find a new path that directly
aligns trust fund revenues and trust fund spending.
But a consensus product is not enough if it does not fundamentally
address this critical shortcoming with current federal highway
As she often does, Lady Margaret Thatcher provides us with some
guidance. In 1981 she offered some thoughtful and cautionary words about
the perils of a misguided consensus — a consensus that has as its chief
object getting something done rather than getting something done right.
This is how Lady Thatcher put it.
For me, pragmatism is not enough. Nor is that fashionable word consensus
. . . To me consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs,
principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one
believes, but to which no one objects — the process of avoiding the very
issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement
on the way ahead…
Mr. Chairman, consensus on highway funding is not enough unless it
addresses costs and benefits in a meaningful way that provides the
foundation for lasting and sustainable federal policy.
On highway funding, in 2005, we reached a basic agreement. And for a
time that consensus worked. We provided more trust fund receipts revenue
for the authorizers to spend. And they spent it. Today, we are
maintaining that level of spending and patching the hole that opened in
the trust fund.
I’m afraid we’ve strayed from the principles that formed the basis of
trust in the highway trust fund. These principles were articulated in a
letter sent by myself and others on my side last year. The amendments I
filed follow-up on that letter.
What are those principles some might ask?
users of the highway trust fund pay for the building and maintenance of
Second, revenues and spending should line up on a year-by-year basis.
Third, we should avoid spending down the balance of the trust fund. That
is, we should keep a healthy cushion to ensure against funding crises
Fourth, we should provide for as long a multi-year authorization as
And fifth, since the Finance Committee moved the revenue level up
significantly in 2005, we should preserve it and not raise taxes now.
Mr. Chairman, you have labored hard to meet these principles. We, on our
side, appreciate all of your efforts in that regard. But in my view, we
can do better. That is why I filed a few amendments — four, to be
precise. There were not an excessive number of amendments filed to the
Chairman’s mark. Republicans filed 13 in total. Democrats filed more
than twice that number.
Today, we’ll debate the merits of the Chairman’s mark. It is, by
definition, a short-term measure. We’ll have to look to the future to
get back on the road to a sustainable long-term highway financing
system. That goal is in the long-term interests of all Americans.