Capitol Hill Republicans Kill Trump’s Infrastructure Plan In The Womb

Republicans have aborted President Trump's lofty plan for a $2 trillion infrastructure deal just days after it was conceived.

Earlier this week, President Trump and Congressional Democratic leaders announced the alleged outline of a long-promised infrastructure plan the details of which were not announced. Even before the details of the plan were released, though Republicans have already killed it:

Every few months, President Donald Trump gets in the negotiating room with Democrats and everyone leaves happy — except for the president’s own party.

This week’s huddle on a $2 trillion infrastructure bill was no different, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer walked away from the White House with an agreement in principle and a promise to meet again. But Republicans were pushing back on the handshake deal before some Democrats even made it back to the Capitol.

“The likelihood of that happening at $2 trillion— just on the face of what I saw — is pie in the sky,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “But I’d love to have a big infrastructure bill.”

It’s a familiar pattern for the president, a one-time Democrat who has gone out on a limb on everything from immigration reform to gun control, only to be snapped back by the GOP.

And Tuesday’s 90-minute meeting on infrastructure, which came against the backdrop of an increasingly combative relationship between Congress and the White House, followed a similar path.Trump, who Democrats say riffed on a variety of topics and appeared eager to play the deal-maker, settled on $2 trillion for infrastructure — an eye-popping figure that was more than what Democrats even asked for.

For Republicans, it was a bit of deja vu. In 2017, Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer (D-N.Y.) emerged from a Chinese dinner with Trump exclaiming they had a deal in principle on immigration and border security, only for the agreement to fall apart once Republicans got wind of it. In another televised immigration pow-wow, Trump expressed support for a clean DACA bill, prompting GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy of California to jump in and clarify the president’s position.

And during a bipartisan White House meeting on gun control last year, Trump backed positions anathema to his party and the NRA, but later walked back his stance amid a backlash from conservatives.

This time, Republicans had to rein in the president from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue since they didn’t have a seat at the table. But the message was basically the same: Trump’s tentative infrastructure agreement with Democrats is little more than a pipe dream that won’t go far in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“A lot of us enjoy watching … the trial balloons he floats. And oftentimes they’re extreme and aspirational,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “And then the pushback comes, oftentimes from his own party.”

Infrastructure spending is an area where President Trump’s publicly stated positions have long strayed from those of his Republican counterparts on Capitol Hill. During the campaign, he spent significant time talking about how former President Obama and the Democrats on Capitol Hill allegedly ignored America’s crumbling infrastructure, for example, and he has also said that the trillions of dollars we’ve spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been spent back home on infrastructure. In many of these speeches he has made derogatory comments about the state of American infrastructure compared to other nations such as China, with particular focus on things like high-speed rail and the state of American airports.

In addition to this, as a New York City real estate developer these types of large-scale infrastructure plans are exactly the kind of thing that someone in Trump’s position might favor for business reasons. From the perspective of a real estate developer, after all, large scale infrastructure improvements are the kind of thing that help attract people to certain areas of the country or certain parts of a given city. Once that happens, it is often people in Trump’s position in benefit the most from public spending on these types of projects.

This view of infrastructure spending, though, runs up against the way Republicans tend to view these things, which can basically be divided into two groups. The first group, of course, are the deficit and spending hawks who insist that any spending increases must be offset by tax increases. While these people are typically not quite as insistent on this principle when Republicans are in power, there are generally speaking enough of them in the Senate that they would be able to block an infrastructure bill as large as the one Trump, Pelosi, and Schumer have apparently agreed to. The much more substantive issue, though, is the fact that many Republicans have a very different view of how these plans should be structured:

The idea of a massive rebuilding program has long given heartburn to Republicans, who complain that federal transportation spending tends to favor more urban — and blue — areas.

Instead, the GOP prefers to rely on public-private partnerships to revitalize the country’s infrastructure, a model pitched by Trump’s own administration in 2017. But the president poured cold water on that plan during his sit-down with Democrats, even calling it “so stupid,” to the surprise of some Republicans and delight of Democrats.

Yet the biggest surprise — or disappointment — could come in three weeks, when Trump and Democrats are set to meet again to talk about potential funding mechanisms, an even thornier and divisive issue.

While most Republicans are vehemently opposed to a gas tax hike, Trump has expressed openness to the idea in the past, forcing his party to once again throw up a stop sign. Yet even Democrats who attended the White House meeting weren’t holding their breath that they’d reach a breakthrough with the president on the issue.

“When I went home last night, I thought about the meeting and I said: ‘When it got close to a way to really talk about the gut issue [of paying for it], it just kind of got pushed in the background,'” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “It is definitely a part of a pattern if you look at how some of these issues have played out.”

Another reason for skepticism: Some Democrats say Trump must consider rolling back some of the 2017 GOP tax cuts — his signature legislative accomplishment — to pay for new infrastructure investments.

That “made me chuckle,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “It’s not serious.”

Given this fundamental disagreement over how an infrastructure bill should even be structured, the odds that Congress can come together to produce something that can pass the House and the Senate and be signed into law by the President. This will become especially true as we get closer to Election Day and both sides will see this as yet another issue they can use as a brickbat during the campaign. Thus. I would say that unless some agreement is reached and a bill passed by the end of this year the prospect for an infrastructure plan of any kind is dead at least until after the 2020 election.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, Donald Trump, Economics and Business, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. An Interested Party says:

    Since Republicans are so recalcitrant, Democrats had nothing lose to team up with Mr. Big Shot Real Estate Developer (who gets to lose out on a campaign promise) for a big infrastructure plan…they can say they tried, but it’s not their fault that Republicans don’t care about America’s roads, bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure…

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  2. SenyorDave says:

    The first group, of course, are the deficit and spending hawks who insist that any spending increases must be offset by tax increases. While these people are typically not quite as insistent on this principle when Republicans are in power,

    Dou, why the qualifier “not quite as insistent”? The GOP, the supposed party of fiscal responsibility, is a joke when it actually comes to being fiscally responsible. We have a annual structural deficit of $1 trillion, and it certainly isn’t due to the policies of Clinton or Obama. The supposed policy wonks of the Republican party (Heritage Foundation folks, Paul Ryan, etc.) are totally clueless and either outright lie (Paul Ryan’s long-term budget plans routinely had GDP numbers of 4% as ;long-term growth) or just propose nothing (see Health Care Reform). The GOP is consistent in one way: deficits and debt matter when Democrats are in the WH, and don’t matter at all when a Republican is president.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    I’m continuously surprised that anyone still perceives Trump as anything but the feckless clown he is. When Chuck and Nancy walked out of that meeting they said, “We look forward getting back together in three weeks and hearing his plans to pay for it” and then I’m sure they never gave it another thought. It barely lasted three days before it was tossed aside by his own party. This IS Donald Trump. Lot’s of talk, and nothing gets done. Anyone paying attention when he bought the football team or the airline know how it goes. “No one knows this better than me. I am the greatest at this particular thing. Everyone else ever involved were small men and never had my magnificent vision.” And then the catastrophic failure that is blamed on everyone else at the time, and a few years later retconned into a fabulous success.

    The guy is the equivalent to the loud mouth at the end of the bar that has a great idea for business, an incredible one that no one else every thought of before and if he only he had the money he would turn it into the biggest thing ever. In the case of the bar guy, they usually run out of their friends’ and family’s money pretty quickly and then go on to be a bitter parasite. It took Trump a long time and a fair number of every smaller businesses to run through his Daddy’s money, but eventually he hit rock bottom. Here’s where the story differs. Trump has some weird televangelist vibe to him that brings in a continuous stream of suckers that line up to put their money into one designed-to-fail scheme after another. They believe they are co-investors with Trump and find out too late that it was all their money and BTW, all that money was used to pay Trump Enterprise fees which are non-refundable and, also BTW, the condo/hotel/casino/golf course is never going to be built.

  4. Kathy says:

    If the Democrats want a big money infrastructure bill, they must pitch it as welfare for the wealthy people whose companies will do the actual building and repair work.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    While these people (Republican deficit hawks) are typically not quite as insistent on this principle when Republicans are in power

    Doug Mataconis, master of understatement, strikes again.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    The idea of a massive rebuilding program has long given heartburn to Republicans, who complain that federal transportation spending tends to favor more urban — and blue — areas.

    Of course it does — those are the areas that generate the wealth. New bridges in Zilwaukee are a dead loss to the nation; new bridges in NYC keep the cash flowing.

  7. al Ameda says:

    I especially liked this:

    Another reason for skepticism: Some Democrats say Trump must consider rolling back some of the 2017 GOP tax cuts — his signature legislative accomplishment — to pay for new infrastructure investments.

    That “made me chuckle,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “It’s not serious.”

    Actually, Senator Cornyn, it’s a lot more serious than Republican concern for infrastructure or fiscal responsibility.

  8. Tyrell says:

    Too bad – there goes nuclear fusion. I would consider voting for one of the Democrat candidates if they promise a nuclear fusion plan.
    Alan Keyes?

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  9. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:

    All you conservatives out in the commentariat, keep repeating to yourselves

    everything will be better once we don’t have the problems that Donald Trump is causing the GOP. He’s to blame for all of it.

  10. Hal_10000 says:

    Good. I have no confidence this “infrastructure” bill would be any different from past bills — a giant pork barrel that lines lots of pockets but doesn’t fund the basic unsexy work that needs to be done.

  11. Tyrell says:

    @Hal_10000: “giant pork barrel that lines the pockets”: how to get around that and get money to the jobs that need to be done – that is the $65 million dollar question.
    I see this as a two track thing. Repair and upgrade the highways, bridges, electric grid, tunnels, and other grid structures.
    The second part is modernizing and high tech projects. Highways need to be readied for smart cars. The electrical grid needs to be more efficient. New energy sources need to be explored and tested.
    But not the politics, pork barrel, pocket linings, and crazy projects (train to nowhere, tunnel for turtles, video game research, Twitter research). There needs to be the involvement of engineers, inventors, planners, and construction experts in developing a list of realistic and bold projects. City and community leaders can give their input, but this is not something that can be turned over to political groups and career bureaucrats. That is what happened to the “bailout” trillions. Trillions of dollars and few jobs to show for it.
    “Not so shovel ready” President Obama

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  12. The abyss that is the soul of cracker says:

    @Hal_10000: @Tyrell: Just remember, while you guys are fulminating and whining (in Tyrellese: hollarin’) about this, what the operative definitions of “pork” and “infrastructure” are

    pork: Federal money spent in your district
    infrastructure: Federal money spent in mine

  13. grumpy realist says:

    All politicians love to be the guys cutting the red ribbons in front of the new building/highway/whatever. Unfortunately, no one wants to pay for the upkeep and maintenance to keep the thing going down the road.

    Maybe if we could come up with a ritual and make a big thing about it when we do maintenance we’d do better.

  14. Kit says:

    For a bit of context, I just read this from Dean Baker:

    That $2 Trillion Infrastructure Proposal Comes to 0.8 Percent of GDP… It is also a bit more than 3.3 percent of projected federal spending over this period and 28 percent of projected military spending.

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kit: But isn’t that the GOP point? I mean, we’re only just now beginning to recover from the absolute evisceration of our national defenses caused by the socialist agenda of the Obama Administration. Why should we cutting our defense budget by 28% annually so that socialists in the big cities can build ‘bridges to nowhere’ at the expense of and immanent danger to heartland America?

  16. DrDaveT says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Your mimicry is too good; it took me three reads to realize that you were parodying the GOP, not supporting their crazy…