WASHINGTON -- Backers of a critical highway trust fund bill set to get a vote in the House on Tuesday may have to worry about defections from Democrats.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that he would not support the bill put together by House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). His objection is two-fold: He said the measure relies on accounting gimmicks to replenish the dwindling trust fund, and more significantly, lawmakers are abdicating responsibility by only replenishing the fund through next May.
"It is an embarrassing expression of congressional dysfunction that we can't come up with a long-term fix to the highway trust fund," Welch told The Huffington Post. "There is literally no justification for us not having, on the floor, the option of a long-term fix. The question to [House Speaker John] Boehner is: Will you do your job? ... You can write the bill you want, but it should meet the smell test of a long-term plan."
Welch's defection complicates the passage of a bill that already has its share of critics. On Monday, two top conservative groups -- Heritage Action for America and Club for Growth -- both came out in opposition to the measure, and said they would score the vote for members. Their complaints were that the bill relies on pension smoothing, which allows for a delay in payments that corporations make to their pension funds that result in a higher corporate tax bill.
Welch likewise criticized the inclusion of pension smoothing, arguing that it creates "a pothole in the pension system to fill a pothole in the highway." But unlike Club for Growth or Heritage Action, his preference is not to see the highway trust fund pared back to meet a more limited revenue stream, but rather to increase revenues to expand the fund. His willingness to vote no on the measure is not without personal, ideological risk.
"Congress it the enemy here," he explained. "It is within our reality to create a long-term plan. My vote is a protest."
Though other members of his party, including leadership officials, have also criticized the Camp bill, Welch predicted that he would not be joined in opposition by many of his fellow Democrats. His no vote, he said, "is probably going to be whistling in the wind," adding that he expects Camp's bill to pass the House before being merged with the Senate's version. The White House on Monday issued a statement in support of Camp's proposal.
"I'm hearing that people are reluctantly coming to the conclusion that this is the only way to go at the moment," he said.
As things stand now, Camp's measure is likely the last to be considered by the House before the highway trust fund runs out at the end of August. Even before then, states will have to make smaller, staggered payments on transportation projects as the federal government struggles to meet funding demands. Should the House fail to act, a substantial loss in transportation projects and associated jobs is the projected result.
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