Our Views: A giant pothole in Congress

If there is anything that ought to prompt Congress to get a move on, it is a potential shutdown of thousands of road and bridge repair projects across America.

Given the enormous risks, for both safety and convenience, the people of the United States should not be satisfied with business as usual on the crisis facing the federal highway trust fund.

Maybe we should take that phrase back, because “business as usual” in this Congress is more along the lines of nothing is going to get done without partisan posturing. For Republicans, there’s nothing to be done legislatively unless they can include proposals that Democrats aren’t going to agree to; the Democrats often do the same thing.

It’s a pathetic excuse for how to conduct business, even between political caucuses that don?t particularly like each other. The object is partisanship and not legislation.

Really bad consequences await the nation if business as usual on Capitol Hill on the highway trust fund continues.

Like Louisiana’s highway funds — and those of many other states — the federal fund is largely paid for with federal gasoline taxes that go to the states for projects. The states chip in with their own money, but in both cases, the source of cash is declining.

Not only are cars and trucks more efficient but Americans are driving less and the per-gallon taxes don’t keep up with inflation. And as in Louisiana, lawmakers are reluctant to raise gas taxes even if they are manifestly needed to pay for the work on roads, bridges, subways and trains.

In the case of the looming crash of the U.S. highway trust fund, Congress is hopefully going to act to patch up the program with other money.

In this case, President Barack Obama is exactly right, the short-term fixes will just kick the can down the road.

His own plan, though, is likely to be blocked in the House. There, what Obama sees as tax loopholes that can be closed to raise revenue, members see as tax increases on the businesses whose lobbyists pay for their campaigns and their lifestyles.

The House has now passed a short-term fix that involves patching together a few sources of revenues for the fund. Obama is likely to back anything that will work, given the urgency of thousands of jobs that are at risk if projects across the nation are suspended.

“This isn’t a partisan issue,” Obama said recently in Virginia. “And when we treat some basic investments as something that we do as Americans, when we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, things work and nobody can beat us.”

Pretty rhetoric, but we can indeed beat ourselves, by failing to come together on the repair of basics. That’s going to cost money, and it’s the job of Congress to raise the money — or the work doesn’t get done. And surely it can figure out a way to raise the money so that the blame is at least shared among the parties, and with the president.