There is "no appetite" for increasing the fuel tax in order to rebuild America's highway system, Sen. John Thune said Wednesday, but that doesn't mean there are not other ways to rebuild the national infrastructure.
"We have to confront the issue of rebuilding infrastructure," the South Dakota Republican told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show
. But even though the last gas tax was passed in 1993, and fuel prices have dropped drastically in recent years, even imposing a 5 cent per gallon tax could be a tough sale, he said.
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A rebuild program should have widespread agreement among lawmakers from both parties, Thune told the show, and just last week in the Senate, 65 votes were cast for a multi-year highway bill that would be funded with no tax increases.
"Now it's up to the House of Representatives to move their bill," Thune said. "We can get the things done that we need to do for the good of this country. But the question is, [do we] do a multi-year bill without a gas tax increase? I don't think there is any political appetite at the time for doing that."
Other options would include looking for spending reductions elsewhere in the national budget and finding a series of items that can provide necessary funding, in addition to what comes in through the gas tax that goes to the Highway Trust fund.
"It's been 1993 since that issue has been addressed," Thune said. "That is an issue that has to be dealt with at some point in the future. We can do a multi-year bill today without a gas tax increase and we ought to move forward with it."
Thune, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference, also discussed the upcoming Republican debate and said that the growing power of Donald Trump, who will take center stage as the front-runner in the early race, has been "remarkable" to watch.
"Donald Trump is the anti-politician," Thune said. "I think that right now he's a magnet for people across this country who are looking for somebody who is talking about ending politics as usual in Washington, D.C. Whether he can sustain that or not remains to be seen."
But, he pointed out, it's a "free country, and we have a lot of people who are running. Remember, this is the first quarter in what is a very long game, and there are going to be a lot of hands to be played."
Ultimately, though, Trump will have to answer hard questions and "be subjected to a whole lot of scrutiny."
But if Trump is the nation's choice, Thune said, "we'll work hard to elect a Republican president. I think he is at least at the moment performing quite well."
It's too early, though, to declare Trump will be the one to take the nomination, said Thune.
"This is a marathon, not a sprint," he said. "These candidates have lots of opportunities to try and impress and get their point across to the American people and try to win their vote."
Meanwhile, in the Senate, Thune said there are several bills coming up that he believes will pass congressional approval and that President Barack Obama will sign.
"We moved a multi-year highway bill, and we moved an education reform bill," he said. "Both of those have to be reconciled with versions that will come through the House. We're trying to get a cybersecurity bill across the Senate floor right now.
"Those are three bills right there that I think if we can get them through, Congress can put them on the president's desk that he should sign into law."
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