Bipartisan lawmakers ready infrastructure report amid questions over White House plan

Bipartisan lawmakers ready infrastructure report amid questions over White House plan
© Greg Nash

The congressional Problem Solvers Caucus is readying a bipartisan infrastructure report that lawmakers hope will serve as a blueprint for President Trump’s rebuilding proposal, members of the moderate group said Thursday.

The caucus has held five meetings on infrastructure over the last two months, including one with the administration, to gather input from stakeholders about the best — and most bipartisan — path forward on a rebuilding initiative.

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The latest meeting came Thursday with former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.) and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who co-chair Building America’s Future.

The duo outlined potential funding offsets, such as a gas tax hike or charging for the number of vehicle miles traveled, and emphasized the need to include a broad range of infrastructure projects in any plan.

"What I said in there: this year has been a missed opportunity for infrastructure," LaHood told reporters after the meeting. "If this Congress, the White House and the leadership had started out with infrastructure and a way to pay for it, that bill would have been passed and hundreds of people would have been working on bridges and roads."

About 25 Problem Solvers Caucus members attended the hour-long session in the Capitol. Some of the ideas discussed could be incorporated into the group’s infrastructure report, which will identify potential funding offsets and other ideas.

The small group of lawmakers actually working on the document hope to have it finished in the next two weeks, at which point the entire caucus would then vote to approve the document.

"The process we’ve developed is to basically do what regular order is supposed to do," Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) told reporters. "We’re meeting with people, we’re shopping ideas and proposals, vetting them within subcommittees, and then we vote on them. It actually works."

She said their infrastructure ideas align pretty closely with the administration, which has yet to unveil further details about its plan, though it has a 70-page memo of infrastructure principles it has been circulating internally.

But doubts have been growing about the timing of Trump’s infrastructure plan, which was once billed as a 100-day priority for Trump but has taken a back seat to other GOP priorities this year.

The White House said it would unveil its rebuilding plan as soon as Congress finishes with tax reform, but Trump also said he wants to address welfare reform and revisit the health-care debate after taxes.

Another source of anxiety that came up during Thursday's meeting is that the House tax plan would eliminate the deduction on tax-exempt private activity bonds — a critical tool used by local governments to finance infrastructure projects.

Killing the bonds would be “destructive” for infrastructure, Rendell told reporters Thursday.

But Esty said she recently received assurances from Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoMitch McConnell — the Republican Senate's invaluable engine The lifesaving difference between connected cars vs. self-driving cars Transportation secretary defends brother-in-law’s nomination to lead pension agency MORE that they would “fix” the issue in an infrastructure bill.

There’s also a chance that the bonds remain intact in the final tax measure, since the Senate version keeps their preferential tax treatment.