As I noted here the other day, there appears to be a difference among top Republicans over whether to raise the gas tax to replenish the Highway Trust Fund — and invest in the nation’s infrastructure and future.
Some Senate Republicans are trying to nudge the party towards a gas tax hike, because the Fund is set to start running dry this spring, which could put at risk many infrastructure projects, something many Republicans and business groups don’t want to see happen. But John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are firmly opposed to any such hike.
Now Paul Ryan, the incoming chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has also slammed his foot down against raising the gas tax:
A gas tax increase ain’t happening. No way, no how.
That was the message from Rep. Paul Ryan to reporters on Thursday at the congressional Republican retreat in this small Pennsylvania town.
“No,” he said. “I don’t see us passing — we won’t pass a gas tax increase.”
And yet, Speaker Boehner himself said the other day that replenishing the Fund is urgent:
“Funding a highway bill is critically important. It’s a priority for this year. How we’ll fund it, we’re going to have to work our way through this.”
Boehner added: “We’ve got to find a way to deal with America’s crumbling infrastructure and we need to do it in a long-term program that is in fact funded.”
So, what to do? As Steve Benen asks: How do Republicans propose to fund infrastructure upkeep, if they aren’t willing to raise the revenues to pay for it?
One possible answer: “Dynamic scoring.”
Dynamic scoring, of course, is the method for calculating the impact of fiscal policy that Republicans are implementing as part of the budget process. Because dynamic scoring factors in projected macro-economic impacts of tax cuts, it makes the cuts easier to pay for, by adding to the calculation the revenues that will be generated by the economic growth those cuts are projected to produce. As Danny Vinik wrote recently of dynamic scoring: “Theoretically, it makes sense. But it’s really hard for the budgeteers to make those estimates accurately in practice.”
And theoretically, this approach could be used here. Republicans could propose to replenish the Highway Trust Fund as part of a broader overhaul of the tax code, which Republicans have named as a top priority. With dynamic scoring, some of the revenues that would be (supposedly) generated by the growth that tax reform would produce could pay for the Fund. Presto!
I asked Paul Van de Water of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities if such an approach could be made to work — at least on paper.
“This certainly provides a hypothetial example of the kind of mischief that could be accomplished with dynamic scoring,” Van de Water told me. “Especially if used in combination with unrealistic estimates, this example shows how dynamic scoring could be used to give the appearance of paying for a proposal without actually doing so.”
But Van de Water added that the real-world result “would be even larger deficits.”
Eh, that remains to be seen. In the short run, what matters is that this way, on paper at least, we get a simplified tax code; our highways funded; the jobs that will create; and no need to pay higher gas taxes. Everybody wins!
Okay, if it isn’t obvious already from my heavy-handedness, the above is meant as a joke. But, you know, it may turn out not to be a joke at all.