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political notebook

Obama hopes Congress will fund $300b for roads, rails

President Obama made a pitch for improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure during a visit to St. Paul.

Craig Lassig/European Pressphoto Agency

President Obama made a pitch for improving the nation’s transportation infrastructure during a visit to St. Paul.

ST. PAUL — President Obama said Wednesday he will ask Congress for $300 billion to update aging roads and railways, contending the taxpayer investment is a worthy one that will pay dividends by attracting businesses and helping put people to work.

Obama revealed his plan at the Union Depot rail and bus station after touring a light rail maintenance facility. Funding for surface transportation programs expires later this year, and the White House says 700,000 jobs could be at risk unless Congress renews them.

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Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx warned Wednesday of a ‘‘transportation cliff’’ coming in August or September when the Highway Trust Fund, which finances federal highway and transit projects, is forecast to go broke.

The trust fund will need an influx of $100 billion over the next six years to maintain transportation spending levels. But Obama and Congress have been unwilling to raise federal gasoline and diesel fuel taxes that have been the main source of federal transportation funding for decades.

AAA, the car association, criticized Washington’s refusal to increase fuel taxes to pay for projects.

In the budget he sends Congress next week, Obama will propose that half of the $302 billion he is seeking come from an overhaul of the corporate tax system. On Wednesday, Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, announced a corporate tax overhaul plan that would dedicate $126.5 billion in revenue to the Highway Trust Fund over the next eight years.

The primary sources of revenue for the fund are the federal 18.4 cent-per-gallon gasoline and 24.4 cent-per-gallon diesel taxes, which have not increased in 20 years. While highway construction costs have risen over the decades, revenue going into the fund has declined. Among the reasons are that vehicles are getting more miles per gallon and people are driving less.

Surgeon general nominee said to be too political

WASHINGTON — Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky placed a procedural hurdle in front of Dr. Vivek Murthy’s confirmation as surgeon general Wednesday, citing his political activity for the Obama administration. But a spokesman for Senate majority leader Harry Reid said it would not cause a meaningful delay in Murthy’s confirmation vote, which has not yet been scheduled.

“I have serious concerns about Dr. Murthy’s ability to impartially serve as ‘the Nation’s Doctor,’” Paul, a Republican, wrote in a letter to Reid. “The majority of Dr. Murthy’s non-clinical experience is in political advocacy.”

Murthy, a doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, founded Doctors for America, an organization of 16,000 doctors and medical students that has advocated for the Affordable Care Act and gun control.

“Dr. Murthy has disqualified himself from being surgeon general because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans’ right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign,” Paul wrote.

Paul’s criticisms echoed concerns from other Republicans voiced during Murthy’s confirmation hearing earlier this month in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. But at that hearing, at least one critic said he expected Murthy would be confirmed. Murthy promised during the hearing that he would focus on public health education rather than politics. Paul, who serves on the committee, did not attend the hearing.

Reid’s spokesman, Adam Jentleson, said in an e-mail Wednesday that revised Senate procedures, which allow filibusters of nominees to be overcome by a simple majority vote, will render Paul’s efforts to place what is known as a “hold” on the confirmation less effective than they were in the past. He noted that Paul had recently placed holds on other nominations, including Janet Yellen, who was confirmed to lead the Federal Reserve in January.

He said the only practical effect of Paul’s action would be forcing the Senate to take an additional vote to schedule confirmation, something that has become routine because of the sharp increase in delay tactics in recent years.

In November, Reid led a vote to streamline such votes on presidential nominations, changing Senate rules to allow them to pass with 51 votes instead of 60. Republicans objected, saying the Senate’s bipartisan spirit had been curtailed.

Key lawmaker envisions simplified US tax code

WASHINGTON — Big
banks would face a new tax
on lending. Taxes that are
paid to state and local governments would no longer be deductible.

The earned income credit for low-wage workers would be converted to a more limited deduction on payroll taxes. Representative Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, unveiled a proposal Wednesday for a sweeping overhaul of the 70,000-page federal tax code that would collapse seven personal income tax brackets to two and lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent.

But the seeds of the plan’s destruction might be found in the fine print.

When asked about the proposal’s details Wednesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner replied, “Blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Faced with that cool reaction from the highest echelons of his party’s leadership, Camp pleaded: “I don’t think we can afford to wait. We have an obligation to debate the big issues of the day.”

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