Trump And Congressional Democrats Announce A Plan To Announce An Infrastructure Plan
President Trump and the top Democrats in Congress announced a purported $2 trillion infrastructure deal but there's no reason to believe it will ever become law.
It has become a standard joke among Washington pundits to ask if it’s still “Infrastructure Week” at the White House. This is due in no small part to the fact that each time the President’s aides have promoted to the press that a particular week was going to focus on the President’s long-anticipated but so far never delivered plan to address the nation’s infrastructure crisis has been driven off the rails.
More often than not, this has happened in no small part because of something the President himself did or said, either on Twitter or elsewhere, that resulted in any attempt to focus the attention of the media, and the President, on the issue pointless. This seemed to happen with such regularity that one wondered if the declarations of a coming “Infrastructure Week” was just someone in the West Wing’s idea of a joke. The Administration did release an infrastructure plan early in the Administration, but it was so short on details that few people paid attention to it. Now The New York Times reports that the President, along with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill has come up with a $2 trillion plan to fix the nation’s infrastructure, but it likely won’t make it very far in Congress:
WASHINGTON — Democratic congressional leaders emerged from a meeting at the White House on Tuesday and announced that President Trump had agreed to pursue a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to upgrade the nation’s highways, railroads, bridges and broadband.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, said that there had been “good will” in the meeting and that it was “different from some of the other meetings that we’ve had.” Speaking alongside Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he said the group planned to meet again in three weeks, when Mr. Trump was expected to tell them how he planned to actually pay for the ambitious project.
“Infrastructure Week” has become a recurring theme of the Trump presidency. A $1 trillion infrastructure plan remains one of Mr. Trump’s unfulfilled promises from his 2016 campaign. The effort took a back seat to the administration’s failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and then to its successful passage of a tax overhaul in 2017.
The original plan was also one that everyone rejected from the beginning — Mr. Trump even criticized public-private partnerships, which were key to the plan’s financing — and there has not been a new plan put forward since.
But Democrats went to the White House for a meeting, intent to play along as if there was a chance.
Ms. Pelosi requested the White House meeting in April, in part to change the conversation from impeachment to infrastructure and to demonstrate that Democrats want to proceed with a policy agenda, and not merely with oversight investigations of the president.
Democrats arrived on Tuesday with a dozen members of Congress. Mr. Trump was accompanied in the meeting by Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, as well as seven White House aides, including his daughter Ivanka Trump, who is also a presidential adviser; Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council; and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel.
Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, expressed deep skepticism about the possibility of an infrastructure deal with Democrats. He said the two parties had major differences on the scope and timing of a plan, and he questioned the intentions of Democrats.
Mr. Mulvaney said he had advised the president that Republicans must push for environmental deregulation so that new projects could get built within two years. He suggested that under current regulations, a trillion dollars’ worth of spending might not lead to new roads or bridges being built for 10 years.
Politico has more:
President Donald Trump and top congressional Democrats agreed Tuesday to spend $2 trillion to repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges — though they punted on how exactly they’d pay for it.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed their 90-minute meeting at the White House with Trump as surprisingly productive following a series of clashes between the president and newly emboldened Democrats this year.
“It was a very constructive meeting. It’s clear that both the White House and all of us want to get something done on infrastructure in a big and bold way,” Schumer told reporters at the White House. “And there was goodwill in this meeting, and that was different than some of the other meetings that we’ve had, which is a very good thing.”
Pelosi and Schumer presented a united front as they stood outside the White House, praising Trump’s “positive attitude” and painting him as an eager partner. Other senior Democrats who attended the meeting deferred to the leaders to speak.
Both Trump and Democrats are eager for a legislative win before the 2020 elections, though it will be difficult to find consensus even on bipartisan issues like infrastructure — particularly on how to cover the cost of such massive investments.
Trump and Democrats expect to meet again in three weeks to talk about where to get the money to pay for the plan. Earlier, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway declined to say whether Trump would support an increase in the gas tax. Democrats are already floating a rollback of Trump’s signature tax law, which would presumably be a non-starter for the GOP.
The two Democratic leaders walked away with what they considered an early political victory — no televised sparring with Trump over Robert Mueller’s report into the Russia investigation. They also talked up a policy win: convincing Trump to agree to rural broadband — a key priority for the party’s moderates — as well as agreeing to the total price tag that Democrats have long touted.
“It started a little lower, even the president was eager to push it up to $2 trillion,” Schumer said, showing the gap between Trump and some of his advisers.
Before anyone goes about popping champagne corks over the dawn of a new era of bipartisanship in Washington, there are several caveats that need to be mentioned that suggest that this announcement won’t be any more ephemeral than previous ones regarding the Administration’s commitment to an infrastructure upgrade, repair, and improvement plan. Once you take all those caveats into account, the odds that there will ever actually be a bill for the President to sign decrease significantly.
The first caveat is one that both Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer should be well aware of based on their past experiences with this President. Specifically, of course. I am referring to the fact that there is no reason to believe that any agreement the President makes in these sorts of meetings has any staying power. Several times over the past two years both Pelosi and Schumer have walked out of the White House believing they had a deal with the President only to have the rug pulled out from under them at the last minute. The most notable example of this came during budget negotiations at the start of 2018 when Schumer met with the President and walked out of the White House believing he had a deal that would keep the government open and deal with outstanding issues such as the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and other immigration issues, including funding for the President’s border wall. That deal fell apart within hours after it occurred when the White House announced that there would be no agreement, thus leading Schumer to lament that negotiating with the President was like negotiating with Jello. The same scenario has taken place several times over the course of the last two years, including during the shutdown that lasted for more than five weeks and didn’t end until well into 2019. Taking that history into account, any announcement of an agreement with Trump must be taken with a grain of salt.
The second caveat is the fact that what we have right now is little more than a plan to have a plan. Unlike the Administration’s announcement in April 2017 that ended up going nowhere, there isn’t even an outline of what the plan might entail and no indication at all of how exactly it would all be paid for. The White House claims that they’ll have more details in three weeks, which happens to be right before Congress leaves for the Memorial Day weekend break, but until we actually see that the idea that there is actually an infrastructure “plan” is laughable at best. If the past two years are any guide, anything that does get released in the next three weeks will be little more than an outline lacking any details whatsoever. Whether that outline gets put into any kind of legislative form that can be voted on by the House and Senate is a question for another day.
Finally, even if the White House, along with Democrats and Republicans manage to come up with a bill and a plan, that does not mean it will actually pass Congress and get to the President’s desk. While this seems like the kind of thing that House Democrats would be eager to pass there is likely to be some reluctance about handing the President a political and legislative win so close to the election and at the same time that the House will likely be investigating the President and his Administration intently. Additionally, even if a bill the President supports passes the Democratic House that does not guarantee passage by the Republican-controlled Senate, where fiscal hawks are likely to balk at the price tag and others will want to see a plan that includes more of the public-private partnerships that Democrats generally object to in these bills. in this regard, it’s worth noting that the President apparently didn’t even bother talking to Senate Republicans before agreeing to this supposed deal. If something does pass the Senate, it could be quite different from what passed the House and this will require the two chambers to go to a conference committee to try to hammer out a deal. All of this will be happening in the midst of a Presidential campaign and, most likely, a series of investigations of the President, the election in 2016, Russian interference. the President’s finances, and the President’s efforts to collude with his attorney to violate campaign finance laws.
In other words, I wouldn’t be putting too much hope in the idea of an actual infrastructure plan coming out of any of this.