TIME Congress

Hispanic Caucus To Push Deportation Relief in White House Meeting

The meeting will focus on a list of executive action recommendations the caucus sent to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in April

Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus plan to meet with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and White House counsel Neil Eggleston at the White House on Friday morning, Jasmine Mora, a spokesperson for Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas), told TIME. Hinojosa is the Chairman of the CHC.

The meeting will focus on a memo the caucus sent to Johnson in April on administrative deportation relief and humane enforcement practices, Mora told TIME. “The intent of the meeting tomorrow is to talk about what administrative actions the President can take under the law,” she wrote in an email.

One of the CHC recommendations—to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to parents and siblings—is the “most clear opportunity” to provide temporary deportation relief, another congressional aide told TIME. If DACA were extended to children’s family members, illegal immigrant families would be able to stay together in the U.S. for at least two years without fear of deportation. In the memo, CHC writes that nearly 205,000 parents of U.S. born children were deported in between July 2010 and September 2012.

In June, President Obama announced that he had asked Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to seek out additional executive actions on immigration that he could announce before the end of the summer. “If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours,” Obama said.

The White House declined to comment for this story.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 24

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Gaza war; Two Ukrainian fighter jets shot down; Air Algerie flight missing; How Hillary and Bill Clinton raised $1.4 billion; Report of Sen. John Walsh plagarism; The execution of Joseph Wood; What's prettier in print

  • New Push to Lure Hamas Into Truce [WSJ]
    • Civilians as Human Shields? Gaza War Intensifies Debate [NYT]
    • Obama wants Israel to limit casualties in Gaza. But he won’t say how. [TIME]
    • FAA lifts its ban on flights to Israel [TIME]
  • “Two Ukrainian fighter jets were shot down Wednesday over separatist-held territory not far from the site of the Malaysia Airlines crash as international outrage over the tragedy has done little to slow the fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine.” [WSJ]
  • “Authorities have lost contact with an Air Algerie flight en route from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers with 110 passengers on board…” [Reuters]
  • How Hillary and Bill Clinton Raised $1.4 billion [TIME]
  • “It’s becoming increasingly clear that Congress won’t address the border crisis until sometime after its upcoming August recess.” [TIME]
  • Senator’s Thesis Turns Out to Be Remix of Others’ Works, Uncited [NYT]
  • Inside the Efforts to Halt Arizona’s Two-Hour Execution of Joseph Wood [TIME]
  • Prettier in Print

A brief message from Michael Scherer, TIME Washington D.C. bureau chief:

We will hold an #AskTIME subscriber Q&A this Friday, July 25, at 1 p.m., with TIME’s political correspondent Zeke Miller, who covers the White House and national politics, and congressional reporter Alex Rogers.

You can submit your questions beforehand on Twitter using the #AskTIME hashtag or in the comments of this post. For this to work, we depend on smart, interesting questions from readers.

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TIME Congress

Sen. John Walsh Plagiarized Final Paper for Master’s Degree

John Walsh
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., speaks during an event in the Capitol Visitor Center on the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, July 23, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

A Walsh campaign spokeswoman says the plagiarism was a "mistake"

Montana Democratic Senator John Walsh plagiarized portions of a final paper required for his Army War College master’s degree, which he earned in 2007 at the age of 46, his campaign confirmed Wednesday. The charges endanger the Democrats’ control of the Senate as the Republican Party is attempting to pick up a net six seats this fall.

As first reported by The New York Times, Walsh passed off passages of his 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy,” as his own, without proper attribution to Harvard University and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace documents. Walsh told Jonathan Martin, a Times reporter, that he did not plagiarize, but an aide did not contest the charge, according to the Times article.

Lauren Passalacqua, a Walsh campaign spokeswoman, told TIME in a statement that the plagiarism was a “mistake.”

“This was unintentional and it was a mistake,” wrote Passalacqua. “There were areas that should have been cited differently but it was completely unintentional. Senator Walsh released every single evaluation that he received during his 33-year military career, which shows an honorable and stellar record of service to protecting Montana and serving this country in Iraq.”

Walsh served in the Montana National Guard for over 30 years before winning Montana’s lieutenant governor race in 2012. Earlier this year, after President Barack Obama nominated Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to be the next ambassador to China, Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Walsh to the Senate. Walsh is currently running for another term in the Senate against Republican Rep. Steve Daines.

Outside election experts have given the edge to Daines. The Charlie Cook Report ranked the race as “lean Republican” in June, and Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, recently wrote that the seat was one of the three best Republican pickup opportunities in the Senate. Walsh has been gaining on Daines, however — a recent poll by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling showed that Walsh had trimmed an early 17-point Daines advantage down to seven points.

TIME Immigration

Photographer Captures Birds-Eye View of Border Crisis

From a helicopter, photographer John Moore offers a glimpse of the U.S. border and those who work to patrol it

Flying above the southern tip of Texas in a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol chopper, photographer John Moore has witnessed the humanitarian crisis firsthand.

Since October, over 57,000 children have crossed America’s southern border illegally. Arrests have more than doubled in the Rio Grande Valley since 2011, according to a University of Texas at El Paso report published in March. Children 12 years of age and under are the fastest growing group of unaccompanied minors, according to Pew. And while the numbers have slowed recently—the White House said Monday that 150 children were apprehended per day in the first two weeks of July, compared to 355 per day in June—immigrants are streaming over in numbers that are rocking the Obama Administration and straining its resources.

Two departments in charge of arresting and removing immigrants who are in the country illegally—Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection—will go broke by mid-September, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which temporarily houses such children, doesn’t have enough beds. A few weeks ago, Obama asked Congress for $3.7 billion to address the crisis; the Democratic-controlled Senate offered only $2.7 billion Wednesday and the House around $1.5 billion. But money isn’t the only problem. How to screen and process the children remains a major sticking point, and it’s looking like Congress will not pass a bill before members leave for the August recess.

Moore’s photographs—the shadows cast by the tall, rusty border fence; agents on the chase; one blue jean-clad immigrant handcuffed in a field of shrubs and sand; a gaggle of children walking before taken into custody; a patrol boat—focus on Ground Zero of the tragedy. They were taken on July 21 and 22 in McAllen and near a processing center in Falfurrias, Texas.

TIME Congress

Congress Probably Won’t Address the Border Crisis Until After Summer Recess

Border Crisis
Undocumented immigrants await transport to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center after being detained on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Congress won’t address the border crisis until sometime after its upcoming August recess. The gulf between the House and Senate border crisis proposals is too great and the timeline too short, members and congressional aides indicated this week.

“I think that if you are focusing on the House, they’re going very bad over there because the Republicans can’t agree what they want,” said Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, a top Democrat, in a press conference Tuesday. “The Democrats aren’t going to support some of their crazy ideas, and the Republicans can’t agree which crazy idea they want to put forward.”

Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Republican leadership team, also said progress on the crisis is unlikely.

“Unfortunately, it looks like we’re on a track to do absolutely nothing, which to me is the definition of political malpractice,” said Cornryn.

The major disagreement holding up the proposals has been whether to keep legal protections granted in 2008 to unaccompanied minors from non-continuous states, mainly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The Obama Administration, House Republicans and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who has authored a border bill with Cornyn, argue minors from those countries should be treated the same as Mexican minors, who are screened and deported more quickly by the Border Patrol. The House GOP border working group recommended to its conference Wednesday to craft a bill that would deploy the National Guard and amend the 2008 law to treat all children the same way. The Senate’s bill, which will be introduced Wednesday, doesn’t do either.

The Senate will likely vote on its bill next week, a Senate Democratic leadership aide tells TIME, mere days before the summer recess. Another Senate aide tells TIME that expectations of getting a bill signed before August are “slim to none” and that senators are already looking at options to take up the legislation in September. On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner said the House has not made a decision on when it will introduce its bill.

If Congress does nothing, the Administration will be hard-pressed to handle the surge of unaccompanied minors—more than 57,000 have been apprehended since October, according to administration officials—and may take it upon itself to act. Two departments in charge of arresting and removing immigrants who are in the country illegally—Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection—will go broke by mid-September, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which temporarily houses such children, is overwhelmed. If Obama is going to act on his own, he will have to move quickly amid flak from both sides of the aisle.

While Republicans may agree with the Administration on changing the 2008 law, they roundly criticize President Obama’s $3.7 billion request to handle the crisis as too high. Boehner called it a “blank check” Wednesday, saying that the House will tie a $1.5 billion proposal with the policy changes.

“Without trying to fix the problem, I don’t know how we actually are in a position to give the President any more money,” Boehner said.

The Senate’s version of the bill, meanwhile, includes $2.73 billion to address the border crisis, still $1 billion below the President’s request. It also includes funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and fighting wildfires raging in the American west.

Republicans have continued to hammer the White House for not reacting to the border crisis warning signals sparked two years ago nor the dramatic surge of migrants in March. They have also latched onto a report by the Congressional Budget Office that says the Administration’s plan would only allocate $25 million through September, with the majority of the funds coming next fiscal year.

But Obama faces pressure on his left as well, and he has seen the border crisis lead to an unusually high level of intra-party friction. Last week, in a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus near the White House, Obama shot down a request to grant asylum as refugees to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children at the southwestern border.

“I can’t go there,” said Obama, according to Cuellar, who was in the room, citing border security concerns. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), the Chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, told TIME that the meeting’s main focus was to oppose the 2008 law and to express “its collective unity in ensuring that these children receive due process under the law.” The White House did not return a request for comment for this article.

Democratic leaders have in turn slammed the proposal changing the way the U.S. treats non-contiguous minors. On the Senate floor Monday, Reid called the policy inhuman. “You wouldn’t send an animal back to this, let alone a little boy or girl,” he said. On Saturday, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said that the way the U.S. treats Mexican children is “abusive” and “deplorable.”

“Just so you know he’s a Texan before he’s a Democrat,” Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) joked last week of Cuellar, who has come under friendly fire for co-sponsoring a bill with Cornyn that would change the 2008 law. In an interview with TIME, Cuellar shot back at Pelosi for flip-flopping on how to try the Central American children. Pelosi’s office has maintained that she has never supported any changes that would negatively impact the children’s due process.

“She changed her position,” said Cuellar, noting that Pelosi had said that altering the 2008 law would “not [be] a deal breaker.” “It’s not only going against my position, but she is going against the Administration’s position, Secretary Johnson’s position and going against 18,500 Border Patrol agents that are on the ground that work on this day after day.”

Cuellar added that he and Pelosi have a “strong” working relationship, despite their current disagreement. “After we address this issue, the sun will rise, it will be a new day, we don’t burn any bridges, and we’re going to continue working on other issues together,” said Cuellar.

With reporting by Zeke Miller/Washington

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 23

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Jerusalem to focus on securing a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas; the 'specific missile' that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17; courts issue rulings on Obamacare subsidies; Honduras' president told to expect U.S. deportations on "massive scale"; David Perdue wins Senate GOP runoff primary; ethics concerns in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office

  • “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday there have been ‘steps forward’ in the diplomacy aimed at ending the fighting between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as he arrived in Jerusalem for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli officials.” [WSJ]
    • “The Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, challenged critics of his country’s military operation in Gaza Tuesday morning, saying they don’t understand the legal definition of ‘proportionality’ in wartime.” [TIME]
    • How to Break Hamas’ Stranglehold on Gaza [WashPost/David Ignatius]
  • “U.S. intelligence resources tracked the ‘specific missile’ that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a senior Administration official said Tuesday, saying intelligence adds up to a picture that ‘implicates Russia’ in helping to bring down the plane.” [TIME]
  • “On Tuesday, two federal courts issued rulings on President Obama’s health care law. Here’s what you need to know about how the rulings affect you…” [TIME]
  • “Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has been warned by U.S. officials to expect a enormous wave of deportations from the United States, he told TIME in an interview at the presidential palace in the Honduran capital on July 17. ‘They have said they want to send them on a massive scale,’ he said.” [TIME]
  • Businessman David Perdue won Georgia’s Senate GOP runoff primary against Rep. Jack Kingston with less than 51% of the vote on Tuesday. Perdue now faces Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, in the fall. [TIME]
    • Battleground Georgia: Democrats See 2014 Flip [Politico]
  • What if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Loses? [Politico]
  • Cuomo’s Office Hobbled State Ethic Inquiries [NYT]
TIME Immigration

Democrat To Obama: You Must Hear the Stories of Child Migrants

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.)
Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., speaks during a news conference on Feb. 6, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

At a meeting Wednesday, the President was sympathetic, but non-committal on Democratic plans to deal with the border crisis.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat from New Mexico, tried to bring the human face of the ongoing border crisis alive to President Barack Obama in a meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House, according to two Congressmen present.

“To not hear these stories is to make these kids disappear,” Luján says he told the President and the beginning of the meeting. He then cited the Pope’s call for action on the immigration crisis earlier this week, and recounted three news reports of kidnapped, beaten and killed children and journalists.

Luján also told a story of his own, one he says was shared with him by two nuns who worked with unaccompanied migrant children at Catholic Charities in Honduras. The nuns told Luján a child was being recruited by one of the local gangs there when the parents intervened, the Congressman recounted. “[The gang] not only killed the child, they killed the parents,” Luján said. “They left them on display for everyone to see.”

The President, who has not visited the border, reacted sympathetically to Luján’s stories, according to Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who was at the meeting as a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which had requested time with the president.

“The horror of what is going on—you could just feel it in the room,” said Sanchez. “[The President] said, ‘Look as a father I understand that completely. Those children’s lives are no less valuable than my own.’”

The President, however, did not back down from his insistence that Congress make changes to a 2008 law that would allow for a speedier deportation of children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The Administration estimates that the Administration will apprehend as many as 90,000 unaccompanied minors at the border by the end of September. The White House did not respond for comment for this story.

The Hispanic Caucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi support an approach where the President would use his current authority—and $3.7 billion—to address the crisis. The Democrats argue that the most humane response would be to quicken the current backlog of immigration cases through hiring more judges and adjusting current policy that would prioritize the children’s cases.

“We don’t want to see a child return to the hands of sex traffickers because we were in a hurry to deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) tells TIME. “I think [Obama] understands that. And as a caucus we have come to the position that we won’t vote for an appropriation bill…that undermines what children have.”

Republicans have argued that the 2008 law—the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act—needs to be changed to allow Border Patrol agents greater authority to screen and deport Central American children. Under the law, the Border Patrol is supposed to transfer these children within 72 hours to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services until their immigration cases are decided. House Speaker John Boehner and others have also argued for increased border security, including sending in the National Guard.

Boehner indicated Thursday that the prospects of Republicans and Democrats forging an agreement by the end of July has taken a turn for the worse as Democrats have established their position on the 2008 law.

“I can’t imagine our members are going to want to send more money down there without attempting to mitigate the problem at the border,” said Boehner. “I don’t have as much optimism as I’d like to have.”

Additional reporting by Zeke Miller/Washington

TIME Drugs

The Rules About Pot Just Changed in Washington D.C.

Pot Marijuana Weed
Getty Images

Adults caught with up to one ounce of pot will be fined $25 in the nation's capital

Washington D.C.’s pot decriminalization policy went into effect Thursday, lowering the penalties for marijuana possession to just a $25 civil fine for adults caught with up to one ounce.

The law may still encounter some pushback from Congress, as the Republican-controlled House passed a bill Wednesday that includes an amendment to stop D.C. from using federal or local funds to implement the law. The bill was passed largely along party lines; only six Democrats supported the bill.

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who sponsored the D.C. provision, told the Washington Post that pot is “poison to a teenager’s brain” and that the new law would treat teenagers in a dramatically different way to young people right across the Maryland border, where violators younger than 21-years-old are required to appear in court.

The Administration “strongly opposes” the House provision, writing in a letter released Monday that it poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan police department’s enforcement and violates the principle of D.C. home rule.

Washington D.C. has an extraordinarily high rate of marijuana arrests, ranked seventh out of 945 counties examined in a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report. There’s also a huge racial disparity in who gets penalized for smoking weed, according to the same report, which found that black people are eight times more likely than non-blacks to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Possession of any amount of marijuana in the District was formerly counted as a criminal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. It remains a criminal offense to smoke pot in the nation’s capital.

TIME

Jim DeMint: Bank Reveals Washington’s ‘Rot and Corruption’

Jim DeMint
Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting in National Harbor, Md. on March 8, 2014. Cliff Owen—AP

The conservative leader talks to TIME about the relevancy of the Tea Party and why conservatives hate the Export-Import bank

Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator and influential conservative leader, has made a risky bet.

While he was once focused on the President’s well-known and unpopular health care law, DeMint, who today leads the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think thank, has now picked a far more obscure target: the 80-year-old Export-Import bank, a little known financial institution that Congressional conservatives would like to see shut down when it is up for reauthorization in September.

Last year, the bank financed the purchase of more than $37 billion of American exports. DeMint would like the bank, which he calls “socialist,” to become a top target for Republicans this fall.

“Certainly there are issues of more long-term fiscal importance, but [there are] few issues that reveal the rot and corruption of Washington more clearly than this,” DeMint says.

Conservative leaders, including the leaders of the anti-tax Club for Growth, Tea Party-supporting FreedomWorks and Heritage’s political arm Heritage Action, have all called for the expiration of the bank’s charter at the end of September. This would block the bank from backing new loans. Earlier this year at the Heritage Foundation, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, a potential candidate for the next House Speaker, called the reauthorization of the bank a “defining issue” for the GOP.

Republicans are divided over the bank’s future, but there is enough Republican support in both chambers of Congress to reauthorize the bank’s charter, according to a TIME analysis. The pro-buisness Chamber of Commerce has heralded the bank for supporting 200,000 jobs while reducing the deficit without raising taxes (it charges fees for its services). While DeMint, Hensarling and other conservatives call the bank a prime example of crony capitalism and corporate welfare, the Chamber notes that small- and medium-sized businesses account for more than 85% of Ex-Im’s transactions.

In an interview with TIME, DeMint described why conservative groups like his own are making such a great deal over a little-known bank.

Is there any issue greater than Ex-Im on the minds of conservatives today?

Certainly there are issues of more long-term fiscal importance, but [there are] few issues that reveal the rot and corruption of Washington more clearly than this. Ex-Im issues taxpayer-subsidized loans for the politically connected that are rife with cases of fraud and waste. It’s symptomatic of so much that is wrong with Washington. It’s not necessary. It’s expensive. It puts taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars. It threatens American jobs, and it should be ended.

Conservatives believe in opportunity for all and favoritism to none. Ex-Im exists to provide subsidies to some of America’s biggest corporations. It has led to allegations of kickbacks and bribes, with over 70 documented cases of corruption in recent years. Allowing the bank’s charter to expire could build momentum for even greater reforms.

We can safely assume the Democratic-controlled Senate will include Ex-Im funding in their end of the year spending package. Would you prefer House Republicans shut down the government or pass the bill with the Ex-Im funding?

I don’t assume anything about what Congress will do on Ex-Im, but what is clear is that this is terrible economic policy that should end. Economists across the political spectrum acknowledge that subsidies, in general, and Ex-Im, in particular, do more harm than good. The vast majority of U.S. exports—98 percent—do not receive any assistance from Ex-Im, and America does not need to adopt socialist policies to compete with Europe or any other countries.

Would you support House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy if he allows a vote and Ex-Im passes, even if McCarthy himself opposes the bill?

If leaders in both parties put more focus on taxpayer concerns than special interest lobbyists, it’s an easy call to end this corporate welfare. It was refreshing to hear a newly appointed leader like Mr. McCarthy join with Americans opposed to wasteful government programs. Our focus is on better policy, not politics. Allowing the Ex-Im charter to expire and ending the unnecessary subsidies to major corporations is sound policy.

If you were still in the Senate and you saw Republicans take back the chamber in the midterm elections, would you vote for Senator Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader?

That’s a decision for politicians. At Heritage we’re focused on developing policies that improve the lives of all Americans regardless of party.

Would you prefer to see Rep. Jeb Hensarling or Rep. John Boehner as Speaker of the House?

These are decisions for members of Congress. Jeb is a strong conservative who should be applauded for leading on so many issues that put the interests of taxpayers ahead of special interests.

Do you believe the President should be impeached, as former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has advocated? Do you agree with the House Republicans’ choice to sue the Obama Administration over delaying the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate?

We’ve not called for impeachment, but Congress and the public are right to be deeply troubled by President Obama’s blatant disregard of the law. Time and time again, he has simply ignored laws he doesn’t like. Any suit by the House of Representatives relating to this misconduct would certainly face procedural hurdles, but there’s a strong case to be made if a judge were to reach the merits of a challenge.

Why is the GOP establishment winning in most of the primary races this year? Has the influence of the Tea Party peaked?

Heritage is not involved in elections and doesn’t endorse candidates. Conservatives want sound policies, and a vibrant debate helps to lead us there. The grassroots push to make Washington listen to the needs of Main Street instead of Wall Street have been a very helpful part of that debate. Tea Party groups have certainly given a voice to concerns shared by a majority of Americans about Washington’s wasteful spending and debt, and they’ve had an enormously positive impact since 2010.

Will there be a conservative backlash to the Highway Trust Fund agreement reached by House Republicans and the President?

The highway program taxes drivers in all states and then diverts a huge amount of the revenue to boutique projects, like mass transit, in a few favored states. It should instead be focused on maintaining actual highway infrastructure—roads and bridges—throughout the country. The most efficient and effective means of doing just that is to keep gas tax revenues in the states, and allow states to decide spending priorities. Instead of bailing out mismanaged and wasteful Washington programs, we should be moving more dollars and decisions to the states where there’s more accountability.

TIME Congress

The Tricky Gimmick Congress Will Use to Fund Your Highways

Congress pays for a 10 month fix now by threatening greater deficits later.

On Monday night the White House endorsed the House Republicans’ plan to keep the Highway Trust Fund—which finances highways, roads and bridges—alive for the next 10 months, saving about 700,000 jobs. While the bill will bring the Transportation Department program back from the brink of a crisis, it uses an accounting trick known as “pension smoothing” to pay for it. Here’s a guide on why the short-term revenue raiser is no good for the long haul.

What is pension smoothing and why should I care about it?

Pension smoothing raises money for the government in the short term in exchange for increasing the debt over the long term. By reducing pension contribution requirements, pension smoothing temporarily increases companies’ taxable income to raise revenue for the government. But over the long-term, companies will be on the hook to contribute more to their pension funds, lowering tax revenue. Some conservatives, including fellows at the Heritage Foundation and Keith Hennessy, a senior White House economic advisor under President George W. Bush, have warned that pension smoothing increases the risk of a taxpayer funded bailout of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the government insurance company that protects pensioners from risk in their private plans.

Does anyone like it?

Congress in the past has turned to the tactic in dire situations (see next question) because it is pro-employer and a revenue raiser in the short-term. Since the Congressional Budget Office scores bills in 10-year windows, supporters of the House and Senate bills to save the Highway Trust Fund can avoid questions about raising deficits in the long-term.

It’s no one’s ideal revenue raiser. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, told TIME last week he’s “not real happy about pension smoothing,” but still “dedicated” to passing this year’s fix. On Tuesday, reporters asked House Speaker Boehner at a press conference why he would support pension smoothing, which Republicans decried earlier this year as a gimmick when Democrats wanted to use it to fund an emergency unemployment insurance extension.

“These are difficult decisions in difficult times in an election year,” said Boehner. “It is a solid piece of legislation that will solve the problem in the short-term. The long-term problem is still there and needs to be addressed.”

Several outside think tanks and media organizations have announced their opposition to pension smoothing, including the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the editorial board of the Washington Post, the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Has pension smoothing been used before?

In 2012, Congress first turned to the revenue-raising gimmick to fill another transportation funding shortfall. Last year, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) included it as part of a failed proposal to repeal an Obamacare provision and end the government shutdown. Earlier this year, Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans tried to use it to extend unemployment insurance. Now it will be used to save the Highway Trust Fund from insolvency.

What are the alternatives?

A month ago, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) introduced a bill to raise the federal gas tax (currently around 18 cents a gallon), which hasn’t been changed since 1993 and is the main source of financing the Highway Trust Fund. The Corker-Murphy bill would address the cash-strapped program by increasing the tax by 6 cents in each of the next two years and then index the rate to inflation. Besides the Corker-Murphy bill, Congress could tax drivers on how many miles they drive and communities could set up more tollbooths. Other potential long-term solutions are in the works but unlikely to pass this year.

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