What Democrats want in Trump's infrastructure bill

What Democrats want in Trump's infrastructure bill

President Trump may need to make a deal with Democrats to get his $1 trillion infrastructure package over the finish line in Congress. 

But while Trump has characterized Democrats as “desperate for infrastructure,” it’s not necessarily going to be easy getting them on board.

For one thing, Democrats may be reluctant to help deliver a major win to Trump and the GOP, who have been scrambling for a legislative victory after last month’s stunning failure of an ObamaCare repeal bill.

And Democrats are already laying down a marker for the conditions under which they would be willing to accept a rebuilding plan — and not all of their demands may be palatable to Republicans.

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Here’s what it will take to bring Democrats to the table.

Direct public funding 

Chief on the wish list for Democrats is a large pot of public funding that would go directly to major transportation upgrades.

Trump’s yet-to-be unveiled infrastructure proposal is expected to focus heavily on public-private partnerships, the funding tool generally preferred by Republicans.

But Democrats, while supportive of getting more private sector dollars off the sidelines, have repeatedly warned that they will not support a measure that relies exclusively on tax credits to private investment firms.

They say that model would only attract investment for large-scale projects that can recoup their costs through tollways or user fees, leaving out critical infrastructure needs and projects in rural areas.

An infrastructure plan floated by a group of Senate Democrats earlier this year would pump $1 trillion worth of federal funding into the country’s infrastructure, which the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates is facing a nearly $2 trillion shortfall.

“Our nation’s infrastructure is failing, and Senate Democrats have a real plan to fix it that includes real, direct and sustained federal investment,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Crying on TV doesn't qualify Kimmel to set nation's gun agenda Trump knocks ‘fake’ news coverage of his trip to Puerto Rico MORE (D-N.Y.) said last month. 

“ASCE’s report underscores the urgent need for the Trump administration to show up with a real plan, not vague promises — and not one stuffed full of tax giveaways for wealthy developers and banks and gimmicks that result in permanent tolls and extra fees for Americans.” 

Worker protections

Democrats will almost certainly fight to maintain construction worker wages and other labor protections in any infrastructure package.

That could spark a new debate about the Davis-Bacon Act, a nearly century-old law requiring employees working on federally funded construction projects to be paid prevailing wages.

House Republicans attached language to a water infrastructure bill last year to waive certain Davis-Bacon requirements. 

Democrats who are worried about efforts to diminish labor laws have promised to push for the requirements to be included in Trump’s infrastructure package.

“If [Trump’s infrastructure bill] targets unions or leaves Americans worse off, I will fight it every step of the way,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said during a builders conference this week. 

“And if it doesn’t include prevailing wages and protect Davis-Bacon, it’s a nonstarter — at least for me.”

When pressed on the issue in a recent New York Times interview, Trump declined to say where he stood on including Davis-Bacon in his rebuilding plan. But Trump said it’s “an important question” and hinted he may “make an announcement in two weeks” on the topic.

Highway Trust Fund fix

Congress passed a multi-year surface highway bill in 2015, but it was paid for using a series of budgetary gimmicks. 

Coming up with a long-term funding solution for the ailing Highway Trust Fund remains a top priority for many Democrats.

The fund collects revenue from the federal gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised in over 20 years. Money from the tax helps finance road and other transportation projects throughout the country.

While hiking the gas tax is likely off the table in a GOP-led Congress, Democrats may encourage the infrastructure bill to include other potential solutions to shore up the Highway Trust Fund.

The highway bill, for example, established a pilot program for states to test a vehicle miles traveled tax.

And an international tax reform measure introduced this year would task a panel with exploring solutions for ensuring long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund.

Environmentally friendly projects 

Democrats envision an infrastructure bill that promotes environmentally friendly construction projects. 

The measure introduced in the Senate would provide tax incentives for renewable energy, as well as a “permanent incentive … for electricity generation, transportation fuels, and energy efficiency improvements,” according to a summary.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has also warned against any proposal that significantly guts environmental regulations, pointing out that more than 90 percent of projects already don’t have to go through a rigorous environmental review at the federal level. 

But Trump has repeatedly promised to cut red tape and streamline the permit approval process, which he said can take up to 10 years. 

“We cannot streamline our way out of our funding shortfall,” DeFazio wrote in a letter with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). “We urge you to … reject efforts that primarily or exclusively consist of measures designed to streamline the environmental review process.”

De-linked from healthcare

Trump said he is considering attaching the infrastructure package to tax reform or healthcare in order to leverage support for his other legislative priorities, because infrastructure is “so popular” among lawmakers.

“I may put it in with healthcare. I may put it in with something else because it’s a very popular thing,” Trump told the Times. “I’m thinking about putting it with another bill. Could be healthcare, could be something else. Could be tax reform.” 

A number of lawmakers support coupling infrastructure and tax reform, with an international tax overhaul being floated as one way to pay for massive transportation upgrades. 

But it is far less likely that Democrats would be willing to support ObamaCare repeal in exchange for infrastructure investment. 

“We’re not going to take away insurance from people to do an infrastructure plan. That’s not a deal we’re going to cut,” said Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.).

“We are willing to negotiate a lot of things for infrastructure. But what we’re not willing to do is kick people off their health insurance.”