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.