Conservatives lay out wish list for Trump infrastructure plan

Conservatives lay out wish list for Trump infrastructure plan
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A coalition of conservative groups have laid out a wish list for what they want in President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure package — and it could spell trouble for the key White House policy effort.

In a letter sent to the administration and key members of Congress on Thursday, the organizations fired their opening salvo in the upcoming debate, urging policy makers to prioritize “fiscal responsibility” as they work on Trump’s yet-to-be unveiled infrastructure proposal.

The wish list is divided into six priorities: reform the environmental review process, repeal labor regulations, focus on “core” infrastructure projects, empower the states, fully pay for projects and reform spending instead of creating new funding streams.

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“This is something we’ve been kicking around… because we wanted to find some constructive approaches to work with the administration, stakeholders and Congress,” said Christine Harbin, vice president of external affairs for Americans for Prosperity, who signed onto the letter.

“The goal of this letter is to really prevent [what happened to the initial effort on health care] from happening on this transportation and infrastructure package. We want to begin this conversation early… so we can come up with a package that balances conservative principles.”

Over 50 other national and local groups, including Heritage Action, Americans for Tax Reform, Club for Growth and Freedom Partners, signed the statement.

One of Trump’s chief campaign promises was to upgrade U.S. roads, bridges, airports and other public works.

Some Democrats may be on board with ramped up infrastructure investment. Still, Trump will have to sell the idea to at least some lawmakers in his own party, even though massive federal spending on transportation has long given fiscal conservatives heartburn.

The conservative groups warned lawmakers to reject any legislation that resembles former President Obama’s economic stimulus package, which they said was “chock-full of waste and pet projects and made the nation's fiscal problems worse.”

Some of their transportation priorities directly clash with those of Democrats, who Trump needs the support of in order to get his plan over the finish line in Congress.

Democrats have demanded that certain wage protections are included in Trump’s infrastructure proposal, but the conservative organizations are calling for Davis-Bacon law requirements to be left out of the measure.

The coalition also wants to see construction permits streamlined, including removing greenhouse gas emissions from the review process and limiting the scope of the National Environmental Policy Act, which could meet fierce resistance from Democrats.

And the infrastructure proposal is likely to run into roadblocks when it comes to the bill’s massive price tag and how to pay for it.

The conservative groups strongly oppose the idea of using new revenues from repatriation — taxing corporate earnings currently oversees at a lower rate when they return to the U.S. That funding tool was seen as one of the more appealing and potentially bipartisan funding offsets on Capitol Hill.

“Congress should be cautious,” the letter says. “[Repatriation] has little to do with transportation issues and instead is a symptom of our broken federal tax code that should be addressed in the context of comprehensive tax reform.”