Shuster: Trump still 'open' to gas tax increase

Shuster: Trump still 'open' to gas tax increase
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE is still “open” to increasing the gas tax as a means to create revenue for new infrastructure projects, according to a key GOP chairman.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterOvernight 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 House passes bipartisan water infrastructure bill Stakeholder group urges Senate panel to fund Amtrak, Northeast Corridor MORE (R-Pa.) said after attending a White House meeting about infrastructure on Wednesday that the president remains “open” to increasing the tax.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperNew EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt Overnight Energy: New EPA head looks to reassure staff | New round of ex-Pruitt staffers leave | House votes to overhaul fisheries law | Trump rips Germany for pipeline deal with Russia Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick MORE (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the president backed a 25-cent increase to the diesel and gas tax during the bipartisan meeting with lawmakers, which comes after the administration unveiled an infrastructure proposal earlier this week. 

“President Trump came back to the idea of a 25 cent increase several times throughout the meeting,” Carper said in a statement. “While there are a number of issues on which President Trump and I disagree, today, we agreed that things worth having are worth paying for, and the president even offered to help provide the leadership necessary so that we could do something that has proven difficult in the past.”

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Trump previously expressed openness to raising the gas tax, a move industry groups have pushed for that remains unpopular among Republicans. The tax contributes revenue to the struggling Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road projects. But that levy has not been raised since 1993, eroding the fund’s purchasing power over time. 

Both Shuster and committee ranking member 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.), who also attended the meeting, said Trump acknowledged and understood the need to address the Highway Trust Fund, which is heading for another shortfall at the end of 2020.

Shuster said he plans to sit down with DeFazio to assemble an infrastructure proposal following the Trump administration’s release of its own rebuilding initiative.

The two lawmakers both expressed optimism that they can work toward a framework to overhaul the nation’s public works.

“Everybody seemed to be on the same page, different places on the page, but you know, there’s a lot of agreement,” Shuster told reporters at the Capitol after the meeting.

“He did not say, ‘I’m drawing a line in the sand and this is what we have to do, what my staff has put together,'" DeFazio said of the president after the meeting. "And he acknowledged that there needs to be more federal investment than is acknowledged, or recognized or proposed in his plan, or not his plan, his staff’s plan.”

Shuster has repeatedly said that any infrastructure bill must have bipartisan support and that all options are on the table for crafting legislation. He has also referenced the gas tax, noting it has not been raised in 25 years.

But the chairman on Wednesday acknowledged that he’s unsure of some components within the White House plan, adding that the $100 billion incentive program the administration is proposing is “hard to do.”

The White House framework calls for the use of public-private partnerships and funding from state and local governments to overhaul public works. Democrats quickly denounced the plan, saying the $200 billion direct federal investment is not enough to have an impact.

But DeFazio said Wednesday that he “felt positive about the president’s recognition that there needs to be some additional real federal investment beyond what is reflected” in the administration’s proposal.

“There was extensive discussion of the need for additional federal investment directly in our roads, bridges, highway and transit systems and he was leading that discussion,” DeFazio told reporters. He declined to provide a specific number of federal dollars, but said lawmakers discussed a figure with Trump.

Shuster, who is retiring at the end of his current term, said lawmakers likely have until July to get some sort of infrastructure effort done, but added that there is no set timeline for authoring a bill. 

“We can get something done in fairly short order I believe,” he said. 

The chairman also signaled that the administration’s thinking on how to pay for the plan could change in the near future.

“I think you’re going to maybe see a little different take on it coming through the next coming weeks or so because the president very much understood that we’ve got to figure out how to pay for this,” Shuster said.