GOP signals infrastructure bill must wait

GOP signals infrastructure bill must wait
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The timing and fate of President Trump’s infrastructure plan may depend on whether the GOP enacts major tax reform — a task that could prove challenging amid the struggle to pass a healthcare bill.

Republicans are signaling that a massive rebuilding package, which has long been one of Trump’s top priorities, will most likely have to wait on the sidelines until lawmakers overhaul the tax code.

But with that process likely to be just as time-consuming and daunting as healthcare, infrastructure could be pushed to the back burner.

“I’d like to see infrastructure get done,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Helsinki summit becomes new flashpoint for GOP anger Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash MORE (S.D.), the Senate’s No. 3 Republican and chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters Wednesday. “But I’ve always said, that in terms of how things are sequenced, it’s more likely that they would do tax reform first. And that might push infrastructure into sometime next year.”

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Congressional Republicans have been weighing their next legislative steps after an effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare stalled in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress GOP to White House: End summit mystery Sunk judicial pick spills over into Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that the GOP would now be moving on “to comprehensive tax reform and to infrastructure,” though he is still pushing toward a healthcare vote next week.

But if the GOP does decide to pivot to tax reform or infrastructure, they face a big obstacle: not having legislation for either.

Trump released a one-page outline on tax reform earlier this year, while House Republicans released a blueprint in June 2016 as part of Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress Interior fast tracks study of drilling's Arctic impact: report Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia MORE’s (R-Wis.) “Better Way” agenda.

The White House seems to be further along on a $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, which it is expected to be released this fall. The administration laid out some details about Trump’s vision for the plan in his budget request and dropped more clues about the bill during an “Infrastructure Week” initiative at the White House.

Trump’s push to upgrade U.S. roads, bridges and other public works has also been viewed as one potential area that could attract Democratic support.

But even with bipartisan interest and steady progress on the infrastructure proposal, there seems to be growing consensus — even among transportation advocates in Congress — that tax reform will come first.

Tax reform has long been considered a unifying issue for the GOP, whereas massive spending on infrastructure has typically given fiscal conservatives heartburn.

“You know I love infrastructure … but I think we have to do tax reform,” Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerGOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE The real reason Scott Pruitt is gone: Putting a key voting bloc at risk Ernst, Fischer to square off for leadership post MORE (R-Neb.), chairwoman of the Commerce subcommittee on surface transportation, told The Hill. “I hear that from Nebraskans as something that has to be done. We’ve talked about forever, regulations and tax reform.”

Other Republicans have argued that they have to put infrastructure on hold because tax reform will pave the way for offsets that could pay for the massive rebuilding program.

Some of the potential funding options that have been floated include charging fees based on the number of miles a vehicle travels and using the tax revenue from corporate earnings stored overseas when it returns to the U.S.

“[Infrastructure] is obviously one of the things teed up and possible to move on, but we’ve also got a tax bill out there, too,” said Rep. Sam GravesSamuel (Sam) Bruce GravesHouse passes bipartisan water infrastructure bill Lawmakers left with more questions than answers on Trump infrastructure plan Five obstacles to Trump's infrastructure ambitions MORE (R-Mo.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. “We need that tax bill before we do infrastructure, because some of the pay-fors are in that.”

But tax reform is a heavy lift. GOP lawmakers and the White House are divided on some of the elements of tax reform, such as whether a bill should be revenue-neutral or include a tax on imports.

Another hurdle is that Republicans want to pass tax legislation through a process known as reconciliation so that the bill doesn’t need any support from Democrats. But to use reconciliation, Congress first has to agree on a budget resolution, and some conservative lawmakers have already expressed reservations about the measure the House Budget Committee released Tuesday.

There is no guarantee that a fractured GOP conference can muscle tax reform over the finish line in Congress, raising questions about where that leaves infrastructure.

The clock is also ticking for lawmakers. The healthcare struggles have already eaten into their time, while there are only 65 legislative days scheduled after the August recess.

Putting off work on an infrastructure proposal until next year could move it into dangerous territory, as it can be trickier to enact major legislation in an election year.

That’s why some Republican lawmakers would prefer to turn to a bipartisan rebuilding package next, which they believe would give the GOP their best shot at a desperately needed legislative victory before the midterm elections.

“I would love for us to move onto infrastructure,” said Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaElection Countdown: Latest on the 2018 Senate money race | Red-state Dems feeling the heat over Kavanaugh | Dem doubts about Warren | Ocasio-Cortez to visit Capitol Hill | Why Puerto Ricans in Florida could swing Senate race Midterm turnout surges for both parties Poll: Incumbent Dem leads Pennsylvania Senate race by 15 MORE (R-Pa.) “I think it could be an area where it’d be pretty difficult for Democrats not to work together with us. I think that’s exactly what we need right now.”

And another GOP lawmaker said delivering on a massive infrastructure package would resonate more strongly with their constituents back home.

“I have a preference for infrastructure,” said Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTrump’s policies, actions create divide on Russia New EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Senate takes symbolic shot at Trump tariffs MORE (R-Okla.) “It’s more bipartisan, and it’s something that the public wants more. I’m sure they want the tax stuff to be addressed, but not as much.”


Naomi Jagoda contributed.