(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) delivered a speech on the Senate floor, urging Republicans to stop blocking legislation that would help avert a financial crisis in the Highway Trust Fund and prevent tens of thousands of construction layoffs throughout the country.

Last week, the Bush Administration abruptly announced that the Highway Trust Fund is bankrupt, and that it could start cutting reimbursements to states as early as next week.  After months of denial, the Administration dropped its opposition to a Democratic legislative solution – which Senator Murray helped author – and urged Congress to have the bill to the President’s desk this week. 

Yet despite the Administration’s request, Republicans are insisting on blocking the bill. 

In her speech, Senator Murray said she has warned about the looming crisis for two years, and she detailed the number of times Republicans have blocked a solution.  Murray said the problem is now an emergency, and the states can’t afford to wait for a solution any longer.

“Republican obstruction and failure to act has gotten us into this crisis, and within a few days, they will start seeing the consequences,” Senator Murray said.  “We can’t put one more American job at risk.  And we can’t afford to play Russian Roulette with our country’s highway construction efforts.  We must act – and we must act now.”

The following is Senator Murray’s speech as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, for two years, I have sounded the alarm about the state of our country’s primary means of funding highway construction and repair – the Highway Trust Fund.  I and my Democratic colleagues have told the Bush Administration repeatedly that we face a looming disaster.  We have proposed a solution that would enable the fund to stay solvent.  And we have warned that without action this year we would face a financial disaster – and we warned that it was coming fast.

But – as they have done with so many other problems in this country – President Bush and his Republican colleagues have chosen to hide their heads in the sand and avoid the problem.  They told us earlier this year that the Trust Fund would have more than $3 billion in the bank at the end of this month.  And they have worked to block our proposed solution.

Well – I rise today because on Friday, President Bush’s Transportation Secretary – Mary Peters – finally acknowledged what we have been warning for months.  The highway account of our Highway Trust Fund is broke. 

The Administration has taken a closer look at real receipts from the federal gas tax and discovered that their estimates have been off by some $3 billion – just since May.  And the Bush Administration is now preparing to default on its bills to the states. 

Mr. President, instead of reimbursing the states twice a day, as the federal government does now, Secretary Peters has told the states that they will only get paid once a week.  And this coming Thursday may be the last time the federal government will be able to reimburse 100 percent of their expenses. 

The DOT has told my Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee that on Thursday, September 18th, reimbursements could drop to as little as 64 percent of the funds that states are due.  They will have to offer states an IOU for the rest.

This Could Cost us Jobs and Halt Critical Road Repairs

Mr. President, the result of the Administration’s failure to act is that we are now faced with an emergency situation.  If we don’t pass a solution fast, our states will be forced to cancel critical highway construction and repair projects that ensure our roads and bridges are safe and secure.   

Not only does this threaten the safety of our transportation infrastructure, it also could bring on massive new layoffs in the construction sector – an area of our economy that has suffered one of the biggest hits in recent months.  And the news comes just as the unemployment rate reached the highest it has been in nearly five years.  We are talking about a scenario in which ongoing highway projects could be stopped dead in their tracks. 

Thousands upon thousands of workers will be told to go home and not come to work the next morning.  And critical safety and congestion-relief projects across the country could be halted right in the heart of the construction season.

We Have a Solution

Fortunately, we have a solution ready to go – if only Republicans would put their partisan ideology aside and work with us to get this passed.  Earlier this year, we proposed returning some $8 billion that was taken out of the Highway Trust Fund back in the end of 1998. 

Now, contrary to what some people have said about our proposal, it is not a bail out from the general fund of the Treasury.  Mr. President, that $8 billion was collected from gas taxes for the purpose of being deposited in the Highway Trust Fund.  At the end of 1998, the money was taken from the Trust Fund because – at the time – the fund was flush with money and we didn’t think we needed it.  Well, we definitely need it now.  So we have proposed restoring to the Trust Fund the $8 billion that was borrowed – not one penny more.  

The situation is so serious, after months of blocking our legislative solution, the Bush Administration did a 180 and is now asking us to get this bill on the President’s desk by the end of this week.

You would think that that would be enough for his Republican allies.  You would think that they would finally see how dire this problem is and work with us to avoid hundreds of thousands of layoffs across this country.  But instead, they are still insisting on blocking all efforts to resolve this crisis.

Republicans Must Stop Obstructing

Mr. President, Senator Bond and I included this proposed transfer in our Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill.  Democrats tried to pass this proposal in June as part of the FAA bill.  Democrats included it in a tax extender package.  And we tried to pass it as part of an economic stimulus bill.  But Republicans have blocked it at every turn.  The final effort required 60 votes.  But we got only 51.  Only five Republicans voted to move that bill forward while 42 Republican Senators voted against it. 

Now, we have another chance.  The House passed a similar bill by a 10 to 1 margin, and it is sitting here in the Senate.  We could pass it by unanimous consent today.  But instead, Republicans are blocking it yet again.  Mr. President, we literally can’t afford to keep treading water like this.

We Must Act Now

I came to the floor yesterday to urge my Republican colleagues to see how important this legislation is.  And I’m here making the case again today.  I hope my colleagues will finally listen and work with us.  Republican obstruction and failure to act has gotten us into this crisis.  And within a few days, they will start seeing the consequences.  This Thursday could be the last day that their states will be fully reimbursed for construction work.  By this time next week, states will have to start doing without.  The stakes could not be higher. 

Mr. President – 84,000 jobs were lost last month alone.  We can’t put one more American job at risk.  And we can’t afford to play Russian Roulette with our country’s highway construction efforts.  We must act – and we must act now.