An editorial / By Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
September 13, 2008
It began with the Fed underwriting the sale of financial giant Bear Stearns. Then Treasury secretary Henry Paulson took control of mortgage providers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And Treasury is helping broker the sale troubled Lehman Brothers, the nation's fourth largest investment bank.
And now the White House has acquiesced in a congressionally authored infusion of $8 billion from the Treasury to the fast dwindling highway trust fund, which President Bush had earlier threatened to veto as "both a gimmick and a dangerous precedent."
The critical distinction is that the money in the Treasury comes from all taxpayers while the money in the trust fund comes from highway users, principally in the form of a tax of 18.4 cents on gasoline and 24.3 cents on diesel.
But the fund, which finances road and bridge construction and once was flush with cash, began to dry up as high fuel prices forced consumers to drive less. At a time when we're trying to cut our oil consumption, the highway fund paradoxically depends on our consuming a lot of it.
The U.S. Department of Transportation says the fund would have run dry this month, causing work to be suspended on many projects at a cost of upwards of 300,000 jobs, not something either party wants to see right before an election.
The new Congress will get an early chance to demonstrate its commitment to change and reform in addressing this problem next year. That's when the 2005 highway bill is to be renewed for another four years.
Congress loves the highway
bill. Bush managed to jawbone the lawmakers down to $286 billion
but even then the final law was loaded down with 6,300 earmarks
and other special interest spending. If high fuel prices cause
Americans to drive less and do so in more fuel efficient cars,
the lawmakers are left with few choices: Cut spending to reduce
demands on the trust fund; raise fuel taxes to increase the flow
of revenue into the fund; or return, hat in hand, to the Treasury
for another taxpayer bailout. And we know how much the free marketers,
John McCain among them, hate the idea of bailouts.
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