Trump Administration To Try Again To Fulfill Infrastructure Pledge (#GotBitcoin?)
The Trump administration is preparing to make another attempt at honoring one of the biggest unfulfilled promises of the president’s election campaign: a $1 trillion upgrade of the nation’s road, rail and energy infrastructure.
Any deal likely will have to include a lot more federal cash to pass muster with Democratic-led House.
That program failed to materialize during President Trump’s first year in office, as the administration pursued a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which failed, and a major tax cut, which he signed into law in December 2017.
In 2018, a package that would have compelled cities and states to come up with at least 80% of the funding for infrastructure improvements was dead on arrival in Congress. Even Mr. Trump’s fellow Republicans voted instead to increase spending in existing grant programs that send federal money to local governments for infrastructure as part of a budget deal, which the president signed.
This time around, people familiar with the White House’s plans say, the administration’s effort is likely to include a lot more federal cash—which makes it more likely to pass muster with the new Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives.
“There has to be real money, real investment,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.), a veteran lawmaker who is in line to take over as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the next Congress. “It needs to be done soon.”
Room For Agreement?
Mr. DeFazio, who briefed reporters on his plans the day after Democrats won the House majority in November, said he had delivered that message to Shahira Knight, the White House’s legislative-affairs chief. Ms. Knight agreed, he said, that a successful deal would have to include major new federal funding. A White House official confirmed that Mr. Trump is “open to more federal funding.”
“This isn’t going to get done without support from the president,” Mr. DeFazio said.
Republicans have also signaled a willingness to strike a deal, including Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), who chairs a key appropriations subcommittee that helps set funding levels for existing federal programs for roads, bridges and railroads.
The declining quality of infrastructure is “creating a serious threat to our economy and safety,” Ms. Collins said in a statement. “I have long believed that an infrastructure package could be an avenue for bipartisanship and deliver positive, lasting results.”
Mr. Trump’s approach to infrastructure has long been a moving target. During his first two years in office, Mr. Trump seized on some of the work of a team led by D.J. Gribbin, then his special assistant for infrastructure policy.
Mr. Trump delighted in showing off a more than six-foot-long chart depicting the many potential steps it can take to get federal approval for a project like a new highway. But in meetings with lawmakers in the fall of 2017, as Mr. Gribbin’s team tried to build up support for the Trump infrastructure package, the president sharply criticized public-private partnerships, which would have been a vital tool in making the administration’s program work.
Mr. Gribbin, who left the White House this spring, says the administration had envisioned a “hybrid” that could have included raising federal funds, such as by increasing the gas tax, in combination with new money raised at the local level, where three-quarters of total infrastructure funding occurs. “You will never be able to raise enough money federally to close the infrastructure deficit we have currently,” he says.
But some of the constraints on Mr. Trump in terms of proposing more public spending for an infrastructure plan have eased with the change in control of the House. While Mr. Gribbin’s infrastructure plan would have capped federal spending at $200 billion over 10 years, Mr. Trump has shown a willingness to spend more readily in his budget deals, notwithstanding growth of the deficit.
A person familiar with the president’s thinking said he was prepared to spend “buckets of money” on an infrastructure plan as he closes out his first term and prepares for a re-election run—a sign that there could be room for agreement with Democrats.
“Look, this guy’s a builder—he gets it,” Mr. DeFazio says. “It takes investment and real money. Some of it can be borrowed, as long as we create a way to repay it.”
Hope For Deal
But a deal could depend on whether the White House and Democrats can set aside conflict in other areas. Mr. Trump has in the past tried to tie funding for one major Democratic priority—a new bridge and rail tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York City—to funding for his proposed wall on the Southern border, which is anathema to many Democrats.
Mr. DeFazio has said he plans to use his chairmanship to investigate other administrative actions, including what Democrats and some Republicans have said is the slow pace of release of funds already approved by Congress for projects such as subways and light-rail systems.
“We got a lot of things we can emphasize and disagree over, we don’t need to politicize infrastructure,” Mr. DeFazio said.
There is growing hope for a breakthrough even among those who have opposed Mr. Trump in other venues.
“We’ve got a president, regardless of what you think of him, who has a tendency to deal in extremes,” says Steven Cohen, chairman of Gateway Development Corp., which is leading the effort to build the new rail tunnel into New York.
“It will be ‘No, no, no’ until it’s ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ ” says Mr. Cohen, a close ally of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat. “And I think it’s going to be ‘Yes, yes, yes’ very soon.”
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