Senate seen as starting point for Trump’s infrastructure plan

Transportation leaders believe that President’s Trump $1 trillion infrastructure package should start in the Senate after the House GOP’s bruising defeat on healthcare last week.

Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), speaking during an infrastructure event hosted by The Hill and the Canadian American Business Council, said that the best path forward for infrastructure is likely across the Capitol, though that doesn’t mean House lawmakers won’t have a role in shaping Trump’s proposal.

“I don’t think the president is going to spend a lot of time in the short-term developing plans with the House on what to do, given the recent experience,” Delaney said Wednesday.

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But with 60 votes needed in the Senate to advance any legislation, Delaney emphasized that Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerTrump claims GOP has a 'big surprise' on healthcare Senate Dems step up protests ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Senate Dems plan floor protest ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote MORE (D-N.Y.) will be key to any infrastructure negotiations.

“The best path, if you were counseling the president, you’d ask him to pick up the phone and call Chuck SchumerCharles SchumerTrump claims GOP has a 'big surprise' on healthcare Senate Dems step up protests ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Senate Dems plan floor protest ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote MORE and see if you can have some kind of a framework for a deal there,” Delaney said. “And then you’d go to [Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTea Party chief on McConnellCare: Amend it or kill it GOP senator: 'Everybody wants to get to yes' on healthcare Paul: ‘I get the sense we’re still at an impasse’ on healthcare MORE (R-Ky.)] and see if you could get some buy-in and get something there, and then just go to the House.”

Previously, the expectation was that the House would take the lead and kick-start efforts on Trump’s promised infrastructure proposal. Those dynamics could change as the administration, eager to score a legislative victory, considers its best path forward.

Both parties agree on the need to repair the nation’s infrastructure, but they are split on how to do it. Democrats want to see direct federal investments for transportation, while Republicans typically prefer leveraging private sector dollars to upgrade U.S. roads, bridges and other public works.

It’s clear that Trump will have to reach across the aisle to make a deal on infrastructure.

Transportation leaders are expecting Trump to court centrist lawmakers and red state Democrats, some of whom were in attendance at a White House reception for senators on Tuesday evening. Infrastructure investment also came up at a recent White House meeting between Trump and the Congressional Black Caucus.

In the Senate, the seeds for a deal are already there. Schumer and a group of Democrats introduced their own $1 trillion infrastructure package earlier this year in an opening bid to swing Trump to their side of the debate.

“It has to start in the Senate. The House needs a bill to work off of that’s been approved to get something done,” said Marcia Hale, president of Building America’s Future. “Take some of the ideas from the House, but craft a deal with Chuck Schumer in the Senate, then go to Sen. McConnell and see whether there are enough votes in the middle to pass something.”

Trump and Schumer’s relationship has been tepid, but the president has signaled that he is willing to repair his relationship with Democratic lawmakers.

“I think we are going to have some very good relationships — right, Chuck? I see Chuck,” Trump said at Tuesday’s White House reception. “Hello, Chuck."

The stalled healthcare effort could result in other significant shifts for Trump’s agenda. The White House is now reportedly considering moving infrastructure and tax reform at the same time.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has long maintained that the rebuilding package wouldn’t take shape until the fall. But Shuster seemed to change his tune a little bit on Wednesday, suggesting that the issue could come up more quickly.

“The sooner the better,” Shuster said. “We’ll be working through this over the coming weeks and months."