July 30, 2012
In nature, invertebrates are at the bottom of the food chain. But in human society, apparently they rise to the top and make spineless decisions. The lily-livered behavior Congress exhibited a few weeks ago on a bipartisan basis is a perfect example of incompetence rising to the top.
As the national press focused on the role of Chief Justice John Roberts in the health care ruling, our squeamish representatives voted 4-1 in both chambers to pass yet another bill that they could not pay for.
Instead of raising the federal fuel taxes to pay for the road and bridge projects in the legislation, they deferred the discussion about raising fuel taxes for another two years and took $20 billion (20 percent of the two-year funding total) from general tax revenues to make up the difference.
Twenty billion might not sound like much in an era when the folks in Washington are running $1.3 trillion deficits annually, but it is. It is eight times the annual budget of the Food and Drug Administration and almost twice that of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Federal taxes on gasoline are the same now as they were in 1993, even though $1 back then is equivalent to $1.59 now. Just to keep up with inflation, gasoline taxes should have risen from 18 cents to 28 cents a gallon.
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In a truly complicit move, the president, Congress and the Senate once again did not have the backbone to do what was necessary to fund legislation appropriately.
Americans pay some of the lowest prices in the world for their gasoline, and their autos have some of the worst fuel efficiency. None of the impacts on the environment both in the form of pollution and the wear and tear on roads and bridges is priced in.
Raising gasoline taxes over time is a practical way to spur manufacturers to develop and consumers to opt for more fuel-efficient autos more quickly. The corresponding improvement in miles per gallon could more than offset the increase in fuel costs, and pollution also would be reduced significantly.
Transportation is “the single largest source of air pollution” in the U.S., according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. A portion of the revenues from higher gasoline taxes could be used as a funding source to develop less polluting technologies.
But politicians prefer to give away guaranteed loans, subsidies, tax credits and grants to “alternative energy” companies rather than develop a mechanism to fund them.
It is a fragmented process where politicians funnel funds to their constituencies with no immediate direct outlays from anyone. Piles of debt accrue, and Wall Street gets rich trading those piles of paper instead of investing in job creation.
Not levying appropriate taxes on gasoline is symptomatic of how slippery politicians govern with poor fiscal policy in order to buy our votes, all the while turning us into a nation of debtors.