Democrats: Engaging Trump on infrastructure is good politics and policy
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Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers released a study showing a $1.4 trillion funding gap through 2025 in US infrastructure needs. The study concludes that if these critical investments in our roads, bridges, airports, railways, ports, public transit and electrical grid are not made the in American economy will lose almost $4 trillion and 2.5 million jobs.

Reports from the GOP retreat make it clear that congressional Republicans are far from enthusiastic about the Trump administration's push for an infrastructure investment package. 

For Democrats, working with the President on infrastructure makes good politics and even better policy.

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The 2018 Senate map is a daunting one for Democrats. Democrats will be forced to defend 10 seats in states that Trump carried in 2016 - five in states (Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Montana and North Dakota) where Trump won by a wide margin. These red state Democrats need to find ways to work with the Trump administration to avoid being swept out in the mid-terms.

 

There will be plenty of opportunities to clash with the Trump White House over the next two years. President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDNC: Trump's promise to protect LGBTQ people 'another bald-faced lie' GOP rep. says McConnell is 'head of the swamp' LGBT groups slam Trump decision on transgender military service MORE’s agenda is one that is at odds with core Democratic values when it comes to issues like healthcare, immigration, tax policy, women’s rights and protecting our social safety net.

While there are significant differences on a host of issues, there is an opening when it comes to investing in our crumbling national infrastructure.

Few Republicans, and no Republican Presidential nominee in recent history, has talked as much or as often about the need for infrastructure investment as candidate Trump did, and in the early days of his presidency his administration continues to push on this issue. 

The Democratic Party has long been the party of investing in our country, our economy and our future by investing in our nation’s infrastructure. Working with the President not only shows red state voters that Democrats can put partisanship aside, it also allows us to remind all voters that we continue to be the party that prioritizes investing in America.

Willingness to work with the administration on an infrastructure package is not only good politics - it is good policy. The truth is that any meaningful infrastructure investment package must include new federal dollars. While uncapping the federal passenger facility charge could meet the almost $100 billion in airport infrastructure needs without taxpayer dollars, there are no easy fixes when it comes to roads, bridges, railways, ports and the electrical grid.

While public-private partnerships and tolls can be a part of the solution, the hard truth is that if we are going to really rebuild America’s infrastructure to make us competitive in the 21st century global marketplace, then real federal dollars will have to be spent.

Public-private partnerships and tolls aren’t the answer for urban centers that rely on public transit nor are they the answer for rural locations that lack the necessary population density.

To help make sure any infrastructure bill is truly impactful and transformative and commits real dollars, Democrats will have to be involved.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) recently unveiled a $1 trillion infrastructure proposal that relies almost exclusively on direct spending of new federal dollars. We know that’s a non-starter for a Republican controlled House and Senate. 

Other Democrats are stepping forward, including Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, who has a plan to help bring solvency to the Highway Trust Fund by indexing the federal gas tax, while investing invest more in America’s airports and seaports.

Some around President Trump are claiming that they can generate $1 trillion in new infrastructure investment without any new federal spending – that’s pure fantasy.

Somewhere in between, however, is a way forward. A middle ground that is both politically feasible and sound federal policy and Democrats in Congress should be a part of helping to find it.

Steve Palmer serves as a Vice President at Van Scoyoc Associates. Mr. Palmer came to VSA in 1998 after nearly 20 years on Capitol Hill and as Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).


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