Senate Democrats are daring Trump to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure
Several Senate Democrats have put forward the blueprint of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan to revamp and build roads, bridges, internet access, airports, schools, veterans hospitals, railways, sewers, and more. The plan represents an opening bid by Democratic lawmakers for one of Trump’s top domestic priorities and may be designed to drive a wedge between Trump and congressional Republicans.
The plan was introduced Tuesday by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer along with Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Tom Carper of Delaware, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Maria Cantwell of Washington. It lacks many details that an actual bill would require, but the broad strokes would mean a larger investment than President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill from 2009 in the midst of the Great Recession.
Trump repeatedly pledged on the campaign trail to restore America’s infrastructure and has made it clear since his election victory that it’s a top priority of his administration. In his 15-minute inaugural address Friday, Trump said “[w]e will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation…rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”
Immediately after the election last November, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon told The Hollywood Reporter that “it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks — get them all jacked up.” He knew that his push for a “trillion-dollar” infrastructure plan would make deficit-hawk conservatives “go crazy,” but he said Trump was creating an “entirely new political movement.”
As Bannon predicted, not all conservatives are keen on the idea, as the national debt has reached nearly $20 trillion. During his first official meeting with congressional leaders of both parties Monday night, Trump discussed infrastructure with the Democratic leadership until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “made the important point that it needs to be paid for,” Sen. John Cornyn recounted to reporters after the meeting. McConnell seemed a bit miffed at the camaraderie between Trump and fellow New Yorker Chuck Schumer, telling reporters afterward that he “enjoyed the president and Sen. Schumer talking about all the people they knew in New York.”
There are only so many ways to get new tax dollars, and many Republicans would prefer to dedicate any available money to tax cuts rather than infrastructure. “There’s going to be a massive struggle in Congress because President Trump wants to do tax reform and infrastructure, and there’s only one revenue source,” said Democratic Congressman John Delaney, who has been a leading driver of bipartisan infrastructure reform over the last four years and is reintroducing his bipartisan bill this spring that is funded through international tax reform. “What are they going to prioritize?”
While Trump’s campaign plan for infrastructure claimed to be revenue-neutral through public-private partnership and tax credits, rural Republicans have shown concern that such an approach would leave out their voters. Such rural parts of the country were essential to Trump’s victory in November.
The Trump administration must “ensure that rural areas are not left out of the equation,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota last week during the confirmation hearing for Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Thune questioned whether the Trump plan would improve infrastructure in rural areas without an additional source of revenue.
Such an approach would also likely not attract much Democratic support. “You can’t take every road in the country and toll it,” said Delaney when asked about Trump’s plans. “It’s a massively regressive approach to public services. Some infrastructure is just for the public good, period.”
The Senate Democratic plan relies heavily on government spending instead of tax credits and public-private partnerships and does not specify how to fund the massive investment. But that may just be an opening offer for Trump, who has repeatedly talked about revelling in negotiations. Trump spent most of his professional career building things and may be persuaded to prioritize infrastructure over tax cuts. It offers the new president a tantalizing opportunity to deliver “big-league” on a campaign promise with bipartisan support.