Trump's infrastructure plan hits a dead end

Trump's infrastructure plan hits a dead end
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL players stand in tunnel during anthem, extending protests 12 former top intel officials blast Trump's move to revoke Brennan's security clearance NYT: Omarosa believed to have as many as 200 tapes MORE’s legislative framework for a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s infrastructure appears all but dead in Congress.

Lawmakers are focused on other legislative matters, and Democrats say the latest “infrastructure week” that started Sunday has done little to reinvigorate the president’s plan.

“The infrastructure week’s been overtaken by the latest tweet,” quipped Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiMcCarthy joins push asking Trump for more wildfire aid in California Pelosi urges Trump to expand disaster relief for California wildfires California wildfires prompt deficit debate in Congress MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “There’s just no energy left in it.”

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Senate Democrats appeared to throw in the towel last week, posting an “in memoriam” video tribute to infrastructure week that shows White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders casting doubt on the potential for a bill this year.

“I don’t know that there will be one by the end of this year. Certainly, the administration, as you mentioned, secured some funding for infrastructure projects,” Sanders said last week when asked about the likelihood for an overarching piece of legislation.

“We’re going to continue to look at ways to improve the nation’s infrastructure. But in terms of a specific piece of legislation, I’m not aware that that will happen by the end of the year,” she added.

The press secretary’s remarks added to growing pessimism that Congress can put together and pass a large package aimed at rehabilitating America’s roads, bridges and airports, something Trump had identified as a priority for his first term.

Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioProgressives poised to shape agenda if Dems take back House Transportation Department watchdog to examine airplane cabin evacuation standards House passes bipartisan water infrastructure bill MORE (D-Ore.), the ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told The Hill Wednesday that there has been no movement on a bill with Chairman Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterHouse GOP chairman introduces draft of infrastructure plan Hoyer updates Dems' economic agenda with sights on taking House Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks MORE (R-Pa.).

“As far as I know, it’s been shredded, or burned, or something. It doesn’t exist,” DeFazio said Wednesday of the president’s rebuilding blueprint.

The White House plan, unveiled in February, was meant to provide lawmakers with a framework to craft legislation. But it quickly met opposition from Democrats, who argued the administration’s emphasis on funding from the private sector and state and local governments was the wrong approach to infrastructure.  

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle immediately questioned how to pay for the president’s proposal, which calls for $200 billion in federal money with the goal of sparking a $1.5 trillion investment by incentivizing private and local investors.

“The only thing we need is funding and Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP super PAC hits Dem House hopeful as 'Pelosi liberal' in new Kansas ad Trump revokes Brennan's security clearance The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE is opposed to any additional funding,” said DeFazio, referring to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

“I told the president that — when I was at the White House — if he wants a bill, he’s got to push the Republican leadership for funding. He didn’t. They won’t. That’s it. Done. Dead,” he said.

While members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have long clamored for an extensive infrastructure package, Republican leadership has shown no appetite for pursuing additional legislation.

Ryan in March said the president’s plan would come about in “five or six different bills,” throwing cold water on the push for a comprehensive overhaul.

But the Speaker at the time referenced legislation Congress must address, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization, which the House passed last month. The Senate is currently preparing its own version of the FAA bill.

Ryan also pointed to the omnibus spending package, a must-pass piece of legislation, and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a biennial water resources bill, as examples of action on infrastructure. The Senate last week released its water infrastructure legislation and the House is slated to introduce its own version in the coming days.

A senior House GOP aide told The Hill that lawmakers are still preparing the water resources bill and further movement on infrastructure would likely come either later in the year or in early 2019.

“It may be segments similar to WRDA and FAA versus a larger package, but that is to be determined,” the aide said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-BalartMario Rafael Diaz-BalartTrump faces long odds in avoiding big spending bill 'Minibus' spending conference committee abruptly canceled Trump vows to stand with House GOP '1,000 percent' on immigration MORE (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, said this week that while he doesn’t know where Trump’s infrastructure framework stands, the recently unveiled transportation appropriations bill for fiscal 2019 is a “major investment” in rebuilding.

“It’s major money for the states, increased money for the states that, in essence, goes to their formula, whether it’s highways, whether it’s bridges,” said Diaz-Balart, who said he still hopes there will be another bill.

Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaTop Koch official fires back at critics: We are not an 'appendage' of the GOP Dem senator: Media should stop covering Trump rallies like they're breaking news The Hill's Morning Report: Trump tries to rescue Ohio House seat as GOP midterm fears grow MORE (R-Pa.), a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told The Hill that he hopes the rebuilding efforts won’t “be a bare-bones minimum” pursuit. He plans to continue advocating for a larger package, but refused to say just how optimistic he is due to “past performance.”

“I was hoping that was not what we would do,” Barletta said of Congress tackling infrastructure in the form of bills like WRDA and FAA.

“President Trump wanted a big, bold infrastructure package. It would be great to get people working again.”

The Trump administration, for its part, has been relatively quiet on the plan since the president said a proposal from Congress would likely come after this year’s midterm elections.

Just days after those remarks from Trump, the White House confirmed that D.J. Gribbin, the president’s infrastructure policy adviser, would be departing the administration.

The White House has yet to announce a replacement for Gribbin, who joined the administration in February 2017 after a stint in the private sector.

When asked Wednesday if the administration plans to fill the position, White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters told The Hill in an email “we have no staff announcements at this time.”