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Perry, Barletta discuss Congressional gridlock

During a meeting Thursday night at the Comfort Suites in Carlisle, Congressmen Scott Perry and Lou Barletta got an opportunity to explain, in a particularly intimate setting, why it is that everyone seems to hate them.

“We don’t like being placed below cockroaches,” Barletta said, referencing a 2013 poll that also put Congress below root canals and hemorrhoids in its approval rating. “But this problem is difficult to fix.”

The Midstate’s representatives spoke during a meeting of the Cumberland Valley Alliance, a group of business owners and public officials convened by the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation.

The oft-cited gripe with Washington is what seems like terminal gridlock on nearly any policy with a dollar figure attached, something which both Perry and Barletta also found vexing.

The issue, they said, has been pervasive fiscal short-termism in the Capitol—a constant cycle of stop-gap measures intended to avoid complete partisan breakdown, but which make long-term solutions more and more difficult to obtain.

“For the longest time, we were passing 18-month bills,” Barletta said regarding his work on the House Transportation Committee. “Nobody in the world is going to buy a new piece of equipment on an 18-month bill. They need to see a five or six year funding commitment, at least, before they start to invest.”

In other words, the lack of reliable, long-term federal funding for critical projects has left many American businesses reluctant to make big moves. Barletta would know – he grew up in a family that owns a road-building business.

“The advantage America still has is that we can physically move products faster and cheaper than anyone else,” Barletta said. “But if we don’t maintain our transportation infrastructure, we lose that advantage.”

Even with the recent passage of a five-year transportation appropriation, Barletta said, “there needs to be a sustainable funding source rather than just waiting another four years to see what comes up next.”

This lack of commitment is a vicious cycle, Perry noted, as federal tax revenue has struggled from the delay in important economic incentives and stimuli – a self-induced malaise.

“The two percent growth is what’s killing us,” Perry said. “If we get back up to five percent, you’re talking about a lot of extra money coming in, and a lot of extra tax dollars that can be put into growth programs.”

But the bottled-up list of federal initiatives won’t move unless some actual appropriation happens, which it hasn’t.

“The Senate hasn’t passed a real appropriation in roughly 60 months,” Perry noted.

Rather, all of the spending that has cleared both House and Senate has come in the form of omnibus bills, which lay out a lump sum that is to be further appropriated by federal agencies themselves. While it is often the only way to get everyone to agree, omnibus bills create a lot of unknowns.

“These issues get clogged up in committee until they end up having to pass an omnibus, either that or face a shutdown,” Perry said. “The feeling is that the administration likes this, since it gives the President the power to appropriate.”

As example, Perry pointed to the rapid increase in the Overseas Contingency Operations Account. This line item is intended as a buffer fund for certain Department of Defense and State Department programs. But in recent years, it has become a slush fund for Congress to dump defense funds on which it can’t agree how to appropriate further.

Both Congressmen stressed the urgency of getting back to what is called “regular order,” in which the legislature would pass spending bills with detailed appropriations rather an existing in a state of permanent emergency with omnibus bills.

“We wouldn’t have these giant omnibus acts. Every federal department would be funded one at a time and everyone could see what is going where,” Barletta said.

Both also pressed the need for tax reform, something that has received bipartisan support in concept, but not in execution. While the United States has the highest net corporate tax rate in the developed world at around 39.1 percent (averaging all 50 states), many companies pay far less, especially as they grow in size, given the number of deductions and loopholes.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to eliminate. An ideal system would be lower base rates, with fewer exceptions,” Barletta said.

This article was posted on Cumberlink.com on March 10, 2016.

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