Democrats rip White House for lack of infrastructure plan

Democrats rip White House for lack of infrastructure plan
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Democrats who gathered Wednesday to discuss ideas for President Trump’s promised infrastructure package ripped the White House for still lacking a concrete proposal.

The rebuilding effort was once billed as a 100-day priority for the White House, but has slipped to the back burner as Congress has been consumed with health care and tax reform efforts.

“Why are we sitting here... with no proposal, other than a few introduced by people like me? All we’re doing is talking around here while the country crumbles. I mean seriously,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

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“It’s time for someone to take the lead, and this committee should take the lead.”

The House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on highways and transit held a hearing on Wednesday to gather input from stakeholders about how Congress should craft a potential infrastructure plan. Multiple congressional committees on both sides of the Capitol have held similar hearings throughout the year.

But Democratic lawmakers who were once excited by the prospect of a massive infrastructure package from Trump expressed growing frustration that there has still been no serious progress on the effort.

The administration unveiled a broad sketch of Trump’s infrastructure vision in his budget request earlier this year, promising more details by late summer or fall. No further guidance has yet been released, however.

And Trump has walked back on the idea of focusing on public-private partnerships in the plan, raising questions about how the package will be paid for and whether it will get enough Republican support.

“Where is the sense of urgency? How many times do we have to listen to experts?” asked Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.).

“I do not want another panel of experts talking to me. I want another panel of experts engaging us as we start putting those shovels in the ground.”

Lawmakers and stakeholders at the hearing also raised concerns that while the infrastructure plan sits on the sidelines, the White House has actually proposed slashing transportation funding in its budget request.

“While we are encouraged by the president’s stated goals, we have been disappointed by budget proposals from the administration that appear to undermine them,” said Peter Rogoff, CEO of Sound Transit, a mass transit agency in the Seattle area.

The administration also gathered stakeholders at the White House last week for a briefing on infrastructure, which was lead by Transportation Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Rosen and policy adviser D.J. Gribbin.

But those present at the meeting said the Trump administration appears no further along on their rebuilding effort, and there was no concrete timeline given for the proposal’s release.

“Very little, if anything, was revealed,” said one source in the room. “I was hoping this would be an opportunity to begin unveiling at least another layer, and there was none of that.”

Another stakeholder told The Hill that the administration largely focused on the regulatory reform piece of the package, and sidestepped questions about how it plans to pay for the massive proposal.

“One of my big takeaways is that they didn’t want to talk about money,” the source said.

Some lawmakers, however, are trying to take matters into their own hands.

Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) noted that she and several members have launched a bipartisan infrastructure caucus to help explore funding ideas.

“We’ll be working to get our colleagues from all different committees, not just this committee, because the revenue aspects are incredibly important,” she said.