GOP braces for Trump’s $1T infrastructure push

GOP braces for Trump’s $1T infrastructure push
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Republicans in Congress appear ready to embrace President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP nearing end game on immigration votes Tech companies scramble as sweeping data rules take effect Comey: Trump's 'Spygate' claims are made up MORE’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal — at least for now.

But even the most optimistic lawmakers caution that conservative support for his plan will hinge on the details, such as how the package is paid for and whether it’s coupled with other GOP priorities.

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“There’s an interest among our members, frankly, on both sides, in doing something on infrastructure,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePoll: 8 in 10 people in key states concerned about driverless cars Hillicon Valley: Mnuchin urges antitrust review of tech | Progressives want to break up Facebook | Classified election security briefing set for Tuesday | Tech CEOs face pressure to appear before Congress Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters. “But my guess is, if that gets done, it probably hitches a ride on tax reform. I don’t know that just an infrastructure bill on its own, as a stand-alone, would go anywhere.”

It’s unclear exactly what Trump’s final proposal will look like. He has called for $550 billion worth of infrastructure investment paid for by bonds, as well as a $1 trillion package financed by offering tax credits to private investors.

Buzz was growing Wednesday that Trump’s economic adviser is now looking at establishing a national infrastructure bank, an idea long favored by Democrats that has gone nowhere under the Republican-led Congress. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonComey: Trump's 'Spygate' claims are made up Clapper: Trump distorting my comments is Orwellian Mueller probing Roger Stone's finances: report MORE, included such a bank in her infrastructure plan.

Still, more than a dozen Republicans surveyed by The Hill said they were encouraged that the issue was being prioritized by the incoming administration.

“Obviously, it’s going to be a long time till he presents a specific plan to us, but I think it’s a positive step,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, told The Hill. “There’s going to be a lot of interesting suggestions. And that’s refreshing.”

The Obama administration frequently pressed Congress to act on infrastructure spending.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO came together five years ago with lawmakers to propose an infrastructure bank, which would have provided low-interest loans and other financial assistance to encourage investors to back national infrastructure projects.

Republicans blocked a $447 billion infrastructure package in 2011 from President Obama because of its massive price tag, despite the support from business and labor. 

But Trump’s election could change the dynamic in Congress, where the idea of an infrastructure bank and massive federal spending on transportation projects has typically given fiscal conservatives heartburn.

“It’s music to my ears,” said Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Tensions mount for House Republicans Koch-backed group to target some Republicans over spending vote in new ad campaign Trump endorses Arkansas governor's reelection bid ahead of primary MORE (R-Pa.), chairman of a Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee and member of Trump’s transition team. “There’s nothing better for this country and getting back to work than a robust infrastructure agenda.”

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse GOP sets three FBI interviews in Clinton probe Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote MORE (R-S.C.), who has focused on deepening the Port of Charleston, said that of all issues Trump has talked about, infrastructure spending is the one most likely to pass Congress.  

“So when President-elect Trump mentions infrastructure, count me in,” Graham, who had a contentious relationship with Trump during the campaign, told reporters. “And I hope he’ll look at ports, inland and coastal, highways and bridges are falling in disrepair.”

Moderate Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said there is a real opportunity for the Trump administration to bring the parties together on infrastructure.

“There will have to be some kind of sustainable revenue source. I think a lot of things are going to have to be on the table,” he said.  

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) said he also supports a plan to ramp up infrastructure spending but will wait to see how the details develop around financing and priorities. 

“I’ve felt all along that the best opportunity to get a bipartisan process working would be on infrastructure,” he said. 

Yet enthusiasm alone won’t be enough to get a massive transportation spending bill over the finish line.

Lawmakers acknowledged that coming up with a palatable budget offset would be a herculean task.

“The concept is right on target,” Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradySenate health committee to hold hearing on Trump drug pricing plan IRS to issue guidance on state efforts to circumvent tax-law provision Push for NAFTA deal continues as uncertainty increases MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, told The Hill. “How we do it, that’s the key.”

Conservatives have made clear that increasing the federal gas tax to pay for infrastructure is a nonstarter. There’s more appetite for taxing corporate earnings that are being stored abroad, a process called “repatriation” when that money returns to the U.S.

But Republicans have also floated repatriation as a way to finance tax reform.

“I like the idea of using at least a part of repatriation to pay for infrastructure,” said Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerSenate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Trump endorses Arkansas governor's reelection bid ahead of primary Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-Miss.). “I think there has been a debate in the government about to what extent to use repatriation to pave the way for tax reform. I tend to believe there’s enough revenue out there to do both.”

Trump’s proposal does not rely on repatriation, but the renewed talk about an infrastructure bank suggests his plan is far from finalized.

“There are a number of vehicles that could finance infrastructure that would meet the approval of conservatives, whether it’s public-private partnerships, investment bonds, repatriation,” said Rep. Mark Meadows.

The North Carolina Republican said other components of the plan that may be important to conservatives are whether it ensures dollars are distributed fairly across the country and whether it rolls back certain regulatory hurdles to getting projects off the ground, one of the major critiques of Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus plan.

“I think that our infrastructure is in dire need of help all over this country,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). “I think President-elect Trump’s right on that it would put a lot of people to work and do some substantive things.”

GOP leadership has so far treaded carefully when it comes to Trump’s $1 trillion proposal.

“We’re going to work on all of these things in the transition,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanThree House Dems say they'll oppose immigration floor vote over possible wall funding Dems after briefing: 'No evidence' spy placed in Trump campaign Senate approves new sexual harassment policy for Congress MORE (R-Wis.) said during a Tuesday press conference, when asked about Trump’s plan. “So, it’s going to take time to figure out exactly what bill comes where and how it all adds up. But that’s what the congressional process is all about.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: Experts worry North Korea will retaliate with hacks over summit | FBI works to disrupt Russian botnet | Trump officials look to quell anger over ZTE | Obama makes case for tighter regs on tech Senate GOP sounds alarm over Trump's floated auto tariffs Administration works to assuage critics over ZTE deal MORE (R-Texas), the majority whip, noted that Congress just passed a “substantial” five-year highway bill at the end of last year. The legislation was financed through a series of budgetary gimmicks, underscoring the challenge of finding long-term funding solutions.

Cornyn said Senate Republicans would at least be interested in hearing Trump’s ideas and how to pay for it. 

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said an infrastructure spending bill would need to be offset in order to get his vote and the vote of other conservatives.

“If Trump doesn’t find a way to pay for it, then I think the majority of us, if not all of us, are going to vote against it,” Labrador said at an event moderated by the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday.

Lawmakers may also face pressure from outside conservative groups, which have been pressuring Trump to steer clear of any package that adds to the deficit or looks like an economic stimulus plan.

“That’s going to go through some pretty significant and rigorous vetting in the Congress,” Rep. Trent FranksHarold (Trent) Trent FranksFreedom Caucus bruised but unbowed in GOP primary fights Eric Schneiderman and #MeToo pose challenges for both parties The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ariz.), another member of the House Freedom Caucus, said of Trump’s proposal. “Reality will ultimately be the arbiter of the final version.” 

Cristina Marcos contributed to this report.