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Honorable Mark Sanford

Representing the 1st District of South Carolina

Late last night, I voted on nine different amendments to the Highway Bill.

Nov 5, 2015
Blog Post

Late last night, I voted on nine different amendments to the Highway Bill.

All final bills represent much in the way of compromise, and so when a bill has made its way through sub-committee and full-committee, its leaders have generally had all the compromise they can stand. For this reason, once a bill is on the floor, most amendments are generally opposed by the committee, since they would have usually fallen outside the compromise reached between Democrats and Republicans leading the committee - and often outside the vetting process represented as a bill moves its way through the sub-committee and full-committee.

This bill and what occurred last night was an example of the actions I’m describing. I’m on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that marked up the Highway Bill, and to make a simplistic example in this bill, Republicans in many instances wanted to reduce spending, speed up projects, and allow states more flexibility. Some Democrats wanted more environmental protection or spending on highways and mass transit, to be paid for in higher gasoline taxes. The bill the Committee produced was a compromise between these sets of priorities as well as many others. Its concessions to higher spending were in almost all cases a bridge too far for me, and as a result I supported amendments the Committee opposed.

What follows is a brief description of why I voted as I did:

• Rep. Mark Desaulnier (GA-17) offered an amendment that directs states to develop public criteria for evaluating transportation projects. The federal government has exhaustive public requirements for highway spending already—the Highway Bill itself is more than six hundred pages long, and that doesn’t even include the thousands of pages of extra regulations from government agencies. I think we should be most skeptical of adding more red tape on top of what we already have, and so accordingly, I voted no. The amendment failed 164 to 252.

• Congressman Duncan Hunter (CA-50) offered an amendment to allow live plant materials to be used for making highway road signs when private organizations help pay for the cost of road maintenance. From my standpoint, the more the merrier in helping to pay for road maintenance. If a plant is the inducement to getting aid on that front, I was open to it. This is especially the case since this would just give states the option of allowing these kinds of signs - which I think is in line with returning power wherever possible to a more local level. I voted yes, but the amendment failed 173 to 255.

• Representative Jeff Denham (CA-10) offered an amendment which would make rest break regulations uniform again across the country after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California took it upon itself to overturn longstanding federal law regarding trucker regulations. Many people I talk to back home are concerned about judicial activism, and they should be! Courts have superseded their role and have grown to create in essence legislation with many of their decisions. Congress can overrule interpretation by passing new legislation. That’s how we fight judicial activism—by Congress asserting its prerogatives under the Constitution. So I voted yes, and it passed 248 to 180.

• Congressman Steve King (IA-4) offered an amendment which would eliminate the Davis-Bacon Act requirements from federal transportation projects. Davis-Bacon requires that all highway projects use a “prevailing wage”…that really isn’t one. The surveys that determine wages overweigh union pay rates while undercounting what nonunion workers make. Paying these elevated wage rates is expensive, and Davis-Bacon increases federal wage costs by about 22 percent, which comes out to about $11 billion dollars every year. The shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund is $15 billion a year, so if we got rid of Davis-Bacon, we’d be a lot closer to getting the Highway Program on solid financial ground. Accordingly, I voted yes, but the amendment went down 188 to 238.

• Rep. John Culberson (TX-7) offered an amendment that would have required local transit agencies getting federal dollars to have a debt to asset ratio of 1:1. In essence, they have to be solvent. Since it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave your money in a bank that was in trouble, I don’t see why the federal government does the equivalent all the time. I voted yes, but the amendment went down 116 to 313.

• Rep. John Lewis (GA-5) offered an amendment which would have gotten rid of a graduated licensing program for younger truck drivers. In essence, it raised the start of the apprentice program from 21 to 19. Given an experienced driver would be in the right seat and given the things our nation trusts young men to do in the military, I thought this reasonable to let businesses with real liability concerns make these evaluations rather than one-dictate-fits-all coming from Washington. So, I went with the Committee here, and I voted no. The amendment failed 181 to 248.

• Congressman Dave Reichert (WA-8) offered an amendment that would have required a Government Accountability Office study on the effect of contract negotiations in West Coast ports on our economy. Labor problems at a couple of ports can hurt economic growth for the entire country, and I think taxpayers have a right to know by how much. I supported the amendment, but it failed 200 to 228.

• Congressman Ron DeSantis (FL-6) offered an amendment would have put the Congress on record in favor of turning responsibility for transportation back to the states. I’m in favor of local control, and I have every confidence that the state of South Carolina can run its own roads without sending the money first to Washington and getting less back in return. The numbers show local projects have about a 5 percent overhead, while federal projects have closer to 25 percent overhead. You’ll find more interesting facts on this from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. With that in mind, I voted yes. The amendment failed 118 to 310.