H.R. 3357: To Restore Sums to the Highway Trust Fund

H.R. 3357

To Restore Sums to the Highway Trust Fund

Sponsor
Rep. Charles B. Rangel

Date
July 29, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 3357, a bill to replenish sums to the Highway Trust Fund and for other purposes, on Wednesday, July 29, 2009, under suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. H.R. 3357 was introduced on July 28, 2009 by Rep. Rangel (D-NY).

Bill Summary

The Highway Trust Fund:  H.R. 3357 contains a $7 billion transfer from the general fund to the HTF.  According to the Administration, the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) will be exhausted about September 4, 2009, requiring an additional $5-$7 billion to keep the fund solvent through September 2009.  In the House, to address this shortfall, Chairman Oberstar is seeking a short-term bailout for the HTF making the highway fund solvent through the end of FY 2009.  The Administration supports, and the Senate is working on, an 18-month extension of the highway program, postponing a full highway bill reauthorization until after the mid-term elections.  The Senate bill would transfer $26.8 billion into the HTF from the general fund, for this extension.   

Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund:  H.R. 3357 includes an open stream of funding for the Unemployment Trust Funds providing "such sums as may be necessary" through the end of FY 2009. 

The Department of Labor anticipates these accounts will be depleted during August, 2009, requiring about $7.5 billion through the end of FY 2009.  The three federal accounts are to cover the cost of extended federal benefits, loans to insolvent States to cover the cost of weekly unemployment benefits without interruption, and the administrative costs of the unemployment program.  (The Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriation bill, which passed the House, July 24, 2009, also contained "such sums as may be necessary" language to finance these Trust Funds in FY 2010).

Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Mortgage Insurance:  H.R. 3357 increases FHA's Mortgage Insurance commitment authority by $85 billion.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) anticipates that FHA will be required to suspend further federally-backed insurance activities when the Mutual Mortgage Insurance Program Account reaches its limit on commitment authority, anticipated to occur in August, 2009. 

The current commitment limitation of the account is $315 billion.  As of the end of June, commitments against this limitation were already at $256.4 billion, and it is projected to be exhausted in August.  FHA currently insures about 30 percent of all mortgages.  Without an increased commitment limitation, FHA would have to suspend such insurance on new loans, which could have an immediate and significant affect on the housing market.  Because CBO did not associate an earlier increase in FHA insurance authority with any credit subsidy amounts, it is presumed that this increase in the limit from $315 to $400 billion would not score as a cost although it would increase taxpayers' exposure by an additional $85 billion.

Ginnie Mae Commitment Limits:  H.R. 3357 raises the Government National Mortgage Association's (Ginnie Mae) commitment authority.  HUD estimates that it will reach its commitment authority in September 2009, prior to the end of FY 2009. 

Ginnie Mae securitizes 95 percent of FHA loans and about 60 percent of VA loans.  Because issuers typically maintain sufficient commitment authority for up to 90 days in advance, running out of commitment authority in September could affect the supply of credit for new mortgages through December 31, 2009.  During the past two years, lenders have significantly increased their volume of FHA and Ginnie Mae business.  In 2009, Ginnie Mae business was 26.2 percent of Wells Fargo's business volume, 35.3 percent of Bank of America's business volume, 21.1 percent of Chase Home Finance's business volume and 39.3 of GMAC's business volume.

Background

Highway Trust Fund:  The HTF was established in 1956 for the purpose of funding the construction of an interstate highway system.  The account is administered by the Federal Highway Administration, within the Department of Transportation, and feeds about $33 billion of gasoline tax revenues annually to States for highway projects.  

Eighty-eight percent of total receipts for the HTF come from the federal highway users excise tax (the remainder comes from truck-related taxes such as truck and trailer sales, truck tires and heavy-vehicle use taxes).  Currently the 18.4-cent federal gasoline tax is distributed with one-tenth of one cent to the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund and the rest to the Highway Trust Fund's two accounts: 2.85 cents per gallon to fund the mass transit account, and 15.44 cents per gallon to fund the highway account. 

The current highway program, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act-A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), expires at the end of FY 2009.  Since being enacted, revenues to that HTF have not kept pace with the outlays, dropping off sharply in 2008 when fuel hit record-high prices and consumption dropped. 

  • Shortfall in 2008: In September 2008, then-Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters, indicated that the highway account would shortly become insolvent and needed a rapid infusion of cash. In response, Congress passed H.R. 6532, transferring $8.017 billion from the general fund to the HTF. During the debate on this issue in 2008, opponents expressed concerns that this transfer from the general fund not only increased the federal deficit, but fundamentally altered the "user-fee" principle of the Highway Trust Fund, jeopardizing constraint in future federal highway spending.
  • Current Shortfall: The Department of Transportation (DOT) has again estimated that the current balance in the HTF will be exhausted about September 4, 2009. In June, DOT estimated that paying the anticipate bills through the end of FY 2009 would require a transfer from the general fund of $5.1 billion and $7 billion.
  • Senate: The Senate and the Administration support an 18-month extension of SAFETEA-LU and $20 billion in funding, delaying full reauthorization of the highway bill until after the mid-term election. Some Senators are seeking to provide $26.8 billion directly from the general fund to the HTF without offsets.
  • Member Concern: H.R. 3357 replenishes the HTF by transferring $7 billion from the general fund. Some Members may be concerned that this direct transfer amounts to a "bailout" of the HTF and will necessarily result in additional deficit spending-at a time when deficit spending reached $1.1 trillion in the first nine months of FY 2009-$800 billion greater than the deficit recorded through June 2008.
  • A Fix Without Additional Deficit Spending: Rather than replenishing the HTF with a direct transfer from the general fund, resulting in billions more of deficit funding, some have proposed offsetting such a transfer with "stimulus" funds. One such bill is H.R. 2942, sponsored by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), to transfer the unobligated fundsappropriated in thethe "stimulus" bill, to the HTF to be used fortransportation projects on the ground.

Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Mortgage Insurance/Ginnie Mae:  Some members may be concerned that this provision increases potential taxpayer liability by an additional $85 billion.  According to the minority staff on the Senate Committee on Budget, the federal government has already pledged more than $9.7 trillion to address our economy's credit crisis, including billions for foreclosure mitigation initiatives.  In addition, some members may be concerned that this provision increases Ginnie Mae's commitment limits and would similarly increase taxpayer liability.  

 

Cost

A CBO score for H.R. 3357 was not yet available as of press time. However, the effect of the transfer will be an increase in highway outlays and in the deficit for 2009.

Additional Information

For questions or further information contact Lisa Tanner at 6-0979.