Lawmakers say Trump’s infrastructure vision lacks political momentum
BY ALEXANDER BOLTON - 02/06/19
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Tuesday that there is little political momentum in Congress for the significant infrastructure investment President Trump called for in his State of the Union address.
Trump declared “both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure,” a remark that was met mostly with shrugs.
Senators said while there’s support for rebuilding roads, bridges and other infrastructure, there’s far from any consensus on how to pay for it when the Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal deficit will grow to $897 billion in 2019.
“I think it’s obvious that a lot of our infrastructure is crumbling and needs repairs, but how do you fund it when you’re spending on other things as well?" said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). "If you’re ever going to borrow money for something it should be for a capital good, but when you’re borrowing so much money … it makes it pretty challenging.”
Rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure was a pillar of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and one that he highlighted early in his term, saying Democrats and the White House could work together on the issue.
But optimism for a striking a grand deal is rapidly fading.
Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), a centrist Democrat from a state Trump won overwhelmingly in 2016, said the president needs to offer a viable proposal to pay for an infrastructure package.
“I didn’t see the money. I’d love to. I think everyone wants to do one. Everyone knows we need one but I didn’t see no money. How is it funded? Funding is the problem there,” he said.
Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.), another Democratic centrist, called the lack of consensus on how to pay for infrastructure "a problem."
"The goal of an infrastructure [package] is as bipartisan as they come, but the problem that we got now is how to pay for it," he said, adding that the 2017 GOP tax law and growing deficits make it "kind of tough, especially when you're asking for more money for the military and all the nondefense funding."
He said "perhaps there's a way" to move smaller "strategic" projects through Congress.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said it’s up to the House Ways and Means Committee to get the ball rolling, since revenue-raising measures are supposed to originate in the lower chamber.
“Infrastructure is money,” he said. “You’re talking about more money. When you talk about infrastructure, you’re talking about more gas tax, realistically."
Trump told lawmakers on Tuesday night that taking no action on infrastructure “is not an option.”
“I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting edge industries of the future,” he said. "This is a necessity.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said Congress could move a smaller-scale proposal such as a bipartisan bill to address the National Park Service maintenance backlog, a measure that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced during the previous Congress.
“It’s a $6 billion infrastructure bill. It’s not everything that people want, but I always thought it could be part of the broader infrastructure bill where you use tax incentives like the private activity bonds we retained in the tax bill to leverage federal dollars,” he said.
Portman said it would be funded by offshore oil and gas revenues, adding that he has talked with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about putting the legislation on the floor schedule.