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Highway Bill Shows Conservatives Must Keep Speaker Ryan Honest

Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan’s election as Speaker of the House has left many grassroots limited government constitutional conservatives wondering (again) what is going on in the minds of Republicans on Capitol Hill. 

Speaker Paul RyanThe Freedom Caucus, once the center of opposition to former Speaker John Boehner’s Chamber of Commerce Big Government Republicanism largely collapsed in the final days before the vote for Speaker. 

While 45 Republicans voted against Ryan in the secret ballot in the Republican Conference meeting – more than enough to block his election – when the public vote came on the Floor only nine Republicans voted against Ryan, despite his embrace of the Obama – McConnell – Boehner spending package that gave Obama an open checkbook for the final year and a half of his term and raised the debt ceiling by some $2 trillion with absolutely no spending reforms. 

Now, following fast on the heels of Ryan’s election as Speaker comes another monstrous spending bill; the long-term highway bill that is currently being debated under the vehicle bill, Hire More Heroes Act (HR 22). 

The House version of this 1,000+ page bill would authorize $325 billion over six years for highway and transit programs, well above the projected revenue coming into the federal Highway Trust Fund.  The bill would also reauthorize the now-defunct Export-Import Bank. 

As Heritage Action for America put it so well in their analysis of the bill:

The federal highway program is fundamentally broken, and the House’s approach would lock in the status quo for another six years. According to CQ, “it is estimated that trust fund revenues will fall $100 billion short of what is needed over the next six years if highway and transit spending is maintained at existing levels.”  The House bill does little to reform the bloated, unsustainable federal highway and transit system. The bill simply kicks the can down the road, masks its irresponsible nature with gimmicky offsets, and creates bigger “cliffs” for lawmakers to tackle in the future. 

Bottom line: the House highway and transit bill would simply perpetuate a broken system by relying on gimmicks, dubious revenue increases and promises of future action all the while providing for the reauthorization of a defunct slush fund for corporate welfare. 

No conservative organization that we’ve been able to find thinks this bill is good transportation or spending policy. 

The Club for Growth, which behind the scenes supported Ryan for Speaker, has issued a “key vote alert” in opposition to the bill. 

Heritage Action for America has issued a “key vote alert” in opposition to the bill. 

Our friends at Conservative Review have editorialized against it as have others. 

The bill has also become a veritable Christmas Tree with some 250 amendments, many unrelated to highway funding, being floated. 

Some, such as one lifting the ban on American oil exports are supported by organizations generally aligned with grassroots conservatives, others are the typical Democratic “infrastructure” spending proposals that were supposed to have been taken care of with Obama’s multi-trillion dollar stimulus program six years ago. 

The highway spending bill is the first real test of Paul Ryan as Speaker. Ryan has pledged a more “open process,” but that is not really the problem. 

The problem is that once again the House Republican leadership, headed by Speaker Ryan, are presenting Members with a 1,000+ page bill full of gimmicky offsets, and blue smoke and mirrors, all justified by outright lies.  

That is exactly the kind of outrageous abuse of the public that Paul Ryan promised to end when he became Chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2011, but which he promptly perpetuated in the April 2011 deal to avoid a government shutdown. What Ryan and the House leadership touted as “historic spending cuts” actually resulted in an increase of more than $170 billion in federal spending from 2010 to 2011. 

Conservatives inside and outside of Congress seem inclined to withhold judgement and give Speaker Ryan an opportunity to show he will advance a conservative agenda, but the highway funding bill is an inauspicious beginning to what was supposed to be a new day for House Republicans. Far from being a new day, the highway bill looks like the same Big Government Republican snake oil of John Boehner presented by a somewhat more attractive and articulate huckster.  

If the highway bill is the best the new leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan can produce we think that Congress needs to hear from the grassroots that what we want is for Republicans to do what we sent them to Washington to do: Stop Obama's Liberal Transformation of America. Please sign the petition to let Paul Ryan know you want Republicans to concentrate on stopping Obama’s agenda, instead of giving him another gimmicky bailout of a failed spending program.

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