Five roadblocks for Trump’s $1T infrastructure plan

Five roadblocks for Trump’s $1T infrastructure plan
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President Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure package could be headed for a ditch on Capitol Hill. 

The White House, which is eager to unveil a broad sketch of the proposal this month, is hoping bipartisan support for the plan can help deliver a much-needed win for the administration this year.

But it is facing hurdles, including disagreements over funding offsets, conservatives worried about the price tag, a packed legislative calendar and tensions from the Russia probes.

Here are five roadblocks that could derail Trump's ambitious rebuilding effort.

 

Opposition from fiscal conservatives

One of Trump’s biggest hurdles will be selling the infrastructure plan to members of his own party, where massive spending on transportation is giving fiscal conservatives heartburn.

Democrats have long championed the idea of infrastructure investment, but repeatedly ran into a buzzsaw of opposition from Republicans.

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A coalition of influential conservative groups is already ramping up pressure on the administration over Trump’s infrastructure initiative.

In a recent letter to the president, they warned Trump that any legislation must be “fiscally responsible” and urged him to reject anything that looks like 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.”

But the groups also laid out a blueprint that the White House could follow to earn their support.

Their wish list includes reforming the environmental review process, repealing labor regulations, focusing on “core” infrastructure projects, empowering the states, fully paying for projects and reforming spending instead of creating new funding streams.

Those conditions, however, could make it more difficult to get Democrats on board.

 

How to pay for it

There has been broad agreement on Capitol Hill about the need for major transportation upgrades, but far less consensus about funding.

And so far, it seems Trump’s rebuilding plan is running into the same challenges that have long plagued Washington lawmakers.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told senators on Capitol Hill this week that “everything is on the table,” but said funding offsets for the package have not yet been finalized.

Congress seemed to be leaning toward using repatriation — taxing corporate earnings stored overseas when they return to the U.S. at a one-time lower rate.

But hopes were quickly dashed when the White House released a tax overhaul proposal that would not funnel the revenues from repatriation towards infrastructure.

“I was so disappointed,” Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) said at an infrastructure event this week.

Earlier this month, Trump suggested he was open to raising the federal gasoline tax to help pay for U.S. roads and highways, a politically fraught solution that lawmakers have avoided for years.

But the White House immediately walked back the president’s comments,

“It's going to take a lot of imagination, it’s going to take a lot of hard work, experience and gifted people" to craft infrastructure funding proposals, Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGOP senator on backing Moore: ‘It’s a numbers game’ Overnight Energy: Panel advances controversial Trump nominee | Ex-coal boss Blankenship to run for Senate | Dem commissioner joins energy regulator Senate panel advances controversial environmental nominee MORE (R-Okla.) said at a hearing this week.

 

Leery Democrats

The White House will need the support of lawmakers from across the aisle to get the president's plan over the finish line.

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

For one thing, they may be reluctant to help deliver Trump and the GOP a victory, especially near the 2018 midterm elections, where they think their prospects are steadily improving.

Democrats have also laid down a marker on their conditions for accepting a Trump plan — and not all of their demands will be palatable to Republicans.

Democrats want a large pot of direct public funding for projects, but the bulk of the funding in Trump’s infrastructure bill will go towards incentivizing private sector investment, with an expected 5-to-1 ratio.

They also envision a bill that promotes environmentally friendly construction projects, which could clash with the administration’s promise to streamline the permit approval process.

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

Republicans have sought to waive provisions from the Davis-Bacon Act, a nearly century-old law requiring employees working on federally funded construction projects to be paid prevailing wages, in past infrastructure-related bills.

“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 last month.

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

 

A tight timeline

Chao said this week that the details of Trump’s legislative package would be unveiled in the “third quarter,” which would put it up against a trio of must-pass bills.

The transportation committees will be occupied this summer with trying to pass a long-term reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — something that eluded transportation leaders last year.

The FAA’s current legal authority expires at the end of September.

At the same time, Congress will be working to keep the government's lights on and dealing with raising the debt limit.

And that doesn’t even include work on healthcare and taxes, which GOP leaders and the administration say need to be tackled before infrastructure.

"From a scheduling standpoint, yeah, it's going to be hard," said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, according to Politico.

"We've got to do the budget to do tax reform and finish healthcare first. And now the administration is saying they want to do infrastructure outside of tax reform, so it could, yeah, it could be something that gets pushed."

 

Outside distractions

Trump’s entire legislative agenda could be at risk following the bombshell reports surrounding Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The damaging reports have further soured the president’s already volatile relationship with congressional Democrats and have dimmed hopes for bipartisan cooperation on issues like infrastructure.

While some GOP lawmakers insist the White House crises won’t distract from their legislative priorities, there is growing concern on Capitol Hill that congressional investigations and efforts to contain the fallout from daily leaks will sap precious time from members.

“It’s so disruptive,” said Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchTrump talks tough but little action seen on drug prices Frustrated with Trump, Dems introduce drug pricing bill Lawmakers try again on miners’ pension bill MORE (D-Vt.).

“I think it completely interferes with anything the president wants to do. It interferes with what Republicans want to do. It interferes with anything that some of us want to do together.”

Mike Lillis contributed to this report.