Wes Hickman (202-224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)
– Today, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jim DeMint (R-SC) voted against the $295 billion highway reauthorization bill that exceeded budget authority by $11 billion. The Senate approved the bill by an 89-11 vote.
“It’s only been a few weeks since we adopted a budget to control spending and the Senate has already gone back on its word,” said Senator DeMint. “We had a chance to pass a responsible bill, but the Senate’s addiction to spending prevailed.”
“The 11th hour increase in the spending level made it impossible for me to support,” said Senator Graham. “It was a tough decision because there are some important policy changes made in the bill that will benefit our state. The only way our nation will solve its fiscal problems is to do what families and businesses routinely do and that’s stick to a budget.”
The Bush Administration has repeatedly warned that it will reject the reauthorization bill if its six-year cost exceeds $284 billion from fiscal year 2004 through fiscal 2009.
While both Senators opposed the bill’s excessive spending, DeMint and Graham were able to secure some important policy changes. These include a better formula in the bill that will return more federal gas tax dollars to South Carolina. Under the new legislation, South Carolina would receive 92 cents back on every dollar it sends to Washington in gas taxes, an increase from the 90.5 percent the state has received since 1998.
The two Senators were also successful in adding a new safety program that will give states like South Carolina greater flexibility in addressing safety needs. Approximately $1 billion will be available for safety improvements such as rumble strips, widening lanes, installing guard rails, and additional signage. All public roads are eligible for this new safety funding.
Highway, public transit, and traffic safety programs are running on a temporary extension that expires May 31. That leaves just eight legislative days for a conference committee to complete its work at reconciling the significant policy differences in the House and Senate bills.
“One of my top goals has been to give states more control of their highway dollars,” said Senator DeMint. “I’m glad this bill takes a step in that direction. However, time is running out and we need the conferees to quickly agree on a responsible bill that the President can sign.”
“The highway bill was intended to create jobs and direct resources to desperately needed highway infrastructure,” said Senator Graham. “Unfortunately, the final version of the bill we voted on busted the budget and will create a ripple effect throughout the government.”
“Fiscal discipline by Democrats and Republicans, when it comes to budget matters, is being eroded in every Congress,” continued Graham. “My vote is a statement of principle that budget discipline does matter no matter how popular the cause. I hope the House and Senate conference committee will exercise more fiscal restraint as they work to resolve the differences between the two bills.”