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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Hours before the federal government was set to reduce payments to states for road and bridge projects, Congress approved a temporary fix Thursday that would maintain funding through the middle of next year.

But in some ways, the damage already had been done.

States were bracing for a drop in payments during the height of construction season. And Congress’ inability to agree on a long-term funding solution has wreaked havoc on state transportation departments, which plan their projects years, not months, in advance.

“We’ve got a short-term fix,” said David Parkhurst, staff director and general counsel for the National Governors Association’s Office of Federal Relations, “but the long-term challenges remain.”

And given the broader paralysis in Washington on a whole range of issues, many observers worry that Congress will just run out the clock again.

“My fear is it will still be a politically intractable issue next year,” said James Burnley, transportation secretary during the Reagan administration. “That’s incredibly disruptive to states.”

Lawmakers in the Senate and the House of Representatives had plenty of warnings. They’d known for two years that the current transportation bill, MAP-21, would expire at the end of September. They’d known for months that the federal highway trust fund would go broke by summer’s end.

They’d known for a month that the Department of Transportation was prepared to ration payments to states beginning Friday.

Yet state transportation departments, business groups, and construction and engineering companies watched for weeks as the House and Senate dueled over whether the highway fund patch would end in December or next May, or what budgetary offsets it would include or not include.

“That’s not a good sign for coming together on long-term comprehensive legislation,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington policy group.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved an $8 billion plan on a vote of 79-18 to bolster the highway fund through December, with the intent of hammering out longer-term legislation after the November elections.

But Thursday, the House voted 272-150 to send its $11 billion, 10-month extension to the Senate. Late in the day, with time running out, the Senate voted 81-13 for a bill that pushes the tough choices into the next Congress.

Schank said that lawmakers are avoiding the elephant in the room.

“They might as well fight over a gas tax,” he said.

The federal taxes that support the highway trust fund — 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel — have not been raised since 1993, nor were they indexed to inflation. The crisis began six years ago, when Congress began tapping general revenues to maintain the program. It’s taken more than $50 billion to keep the fund solvent, and the hole gets deeper every year.

Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Trucking Associations, have pushed for a gax tax increase. Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Bob Corker (R-TN), proposed raising it by 12 cents to restore its purchasing power.

But lawmakers in both parties are reluctant to raise taxes, especially during an election year. President Barack Obama has not endorsed that approach, either. He has pitched a plan to close corporate tax loopholes to supplement the highway fund, but that’s only a one-time source of revenue, not a permanent cure.

“You could scotch tape, year after year, various sources of revenue and accounting games,” Burnley said. “But that’s no way to manage your infrastructure.”

AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

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Actor as Donald Trump in Russia Today video ad

Screenshot from RT's 'Trump is here to make RT Great Again'

Russia Today, the network known in this country as RT, has produced a new "deep fake" video that portrays Donald Trump in post-presidential mode as an anchor for the Kremlin outlet. Using snippets of Trump's own voice and an actor in an outlandish blond wig, the ad suggests broadly that the US president is indeed a wholly owned puppet of Vladimir Putin– as he has so often given us reason to suspect.

"They're very nice. I make a lot of money with them," says the actor in Trump's own voice. "They pay me millions and hundreds of millions."

But when American journalists described the video as "disturbing," RT retorted that their aim wasn't to mock Trump, but his critics and every American who objects to the Russian manipulations that helped bring him to power.

As an ad for RT the video is amusing, but the network's description of it is just another lie. Putin's propagandists are again trolling Trump and America, as they've done many times over the past few years –- and this should be taken as a warning of what they're doing as Election Day approaches.

The Lincoln Project aptly observed that the Russians "said the quiet part out loud" this time, (Which is a bad habit they share with Trump.)