The House of Representatives last week laid claim to a budget offset the Senate Finance Committee intended to use to pay for Sen. Barbara Boxer’s two-year, $109 billion highway bill, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official.
The action will make it harder for the Senate to come up with the $12 billion needed to plug the shortfall in Boxer's plan.
The House on Friday overwhelmingly repealed a federal income tax provision that withheld 3 percent of payments to contractors. To cover revenue lost in the repeal, the House used offsetting funds from a change in the 2010 comprehensive health care law.
All told, the shuffling of funds totaled about $13 billion per year, enough needed above existing Highway Trust Fund revenue to cover the cost of Boxer’s bill, said Janet F. Kavinoky, the chamber’s executive director for transportation and infrastructure.
“This is the way the offset game is played,” Kavinoky said. “The House got to it first. Had Finance marked up two weeks ago, they would have grabbed that offset.”
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., pledged to find additional revenue to fund Boxer’s bill. Kavinoky said that the health care offset was in the committee staff’s sights, and there may be other offsets, but they are becoming scarce.
“This is what happens when you have a huge budget crunch and no willingness to raise taxes or user fees. Everybody is competing for what I call the money under the couch cushions,” Kavinoky said. “This is a great example of transportation competing with everything else to get resources.”
She said that without the trust fund to provide revenue for highway infrastructure, lawmakers would be in open competition for funds every year. Boxer, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, plans to clear the transportation bill from committee next week.