Any infrastructure program will be swallowed by the swamp

Any infrastructure program will be swallowed by the swamp
© Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move Pelosi: Israel's Omar-Tlaib decision 'a sign of weakness' MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerColorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down Trump ahead of New Hampshire speech: Lewandowski would be 'fantastic' senator Hickenlooper ends presidential bid MORE (D-N.Y.) are positively giddy that President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren unveils Native American policy plan Live-action 'Mulan' star spurs calls for boycott with support of Hong Kong police Don't let other countries unfairly tax America's most innovative companies MORE has agreed to spend $2 trillion on an infrastructure program. That’s even more than the $1.5 trillion that the president has committed to in the past. 

That’s good news for the country. The bad news? It isn’t going to happen, and they know it. 

Here’s how this will go: The president and his staff will propose that, in light of our $22 trillion national debt, any program to repair our bridges and airports will need private funding. They will further insist that, to attract investors, we need to speed up our approval process.


Democrats, for their part, will demand higher taxes to finance the much-needed overhaul, and they will scream that the president wants to disregard important environmental constraints, ready to sully our air and poison our water in exchange for a political win. 

Blocked by a GOP-controlled Senate dead set against changing our tax laws, Speaker Pelosi will blame President Trump and his party for a breakdown in talks, and that will be the end of that.

Pelosi can argue to voters that her fractious caucus is trying its best to govern and to move the nation forward but cannot do so in the face of an obstructionist White House and Senate.

President Trump, for his part, will accuse Democrats of fiscal recklessness and of wanting to undo the benefits of the GOP tax cuts. He will charge them with putting politics first, wanting to deny him a win in advance of the 2020 election. 

Nancy Pelosi needs the infrastructure push to show the country that Democrats stand for more than just attacking President Trump. She has repeatedly batted down impeachment talks despite ongoing calls from many of her colleagues.

She knows that continuing to press forward with investigations conducted by Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffNew intel chief inherits host of challenges Schiff: Intelligence officials' retirements a 'devastating loss' Deputy intelligence director under Trump resigns MORE (D-Calif.), Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersBanks give Congress, New York AG documents related to Russians who may have dealt with Trump: report Maxine Waters: Force us to ban assault weapons 'or kick our a--- out of Congress!' Maxine Waters: Escalating killings in US motivated by Trump's 'race baiting' MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse Democrats urge Trump to end deportations of Iraqis after diabetic man's death French officials call for investigation of Epstein 'links with France' National Archives: Trump, Bush can review Democrats' request for Kavanaugh records MORE (D-N.Y.) is risky for Democrats, especially for the 22 House newcomers who won seats in districts that voted for Trump in 2016.

A recent poll shows that 53 percent of the country opposes impeachment proceedings in the wake of the Mueller report. Though 70 percent of Democrats would like to see Trump impeached, 51 percent of independents are against it.

Pelosi knows that if Democrats want to retake the White House in 2020, they need to win over those independent voters. 

She wants to prove that her feisty members can litigate and legislate at the same time. So far, that capability is a well-kept secret. Her House colleagues have made headlines issuing subpoenas and demanding inquiries into every nook and cranny of the president’s life, his business past, his family’s activities and his administration.

Their attacks on the president begin to smack of harassment. At some point, the public will grow tired of the endless vendettas, especially if, as in the Mueller investigation, the probes lead to naught. 

Voters will then ask: How has the Democratic takeover of the House benefited me personally? How have they made a difference? 

Hence, the excitement over the recent White House meeting on infrastructure: Everyone knows this to be a rare area of bipartisan agreement. 

A recent poll showed that 87 percent of the country thinks Democrats should work with President Trump to enhance our infrastructure. There is no disputing that we need to fix our broken tunnels and highways and that the payoff would be real. 

The dispute is over how to pay for it. 

Speaking Tuesday at the Milken Institute Global Conference, Mick Mulvaney, acting chief of staff to President Trump, outlined the divide. He described the necessity of attracting private funding into our infrastructure plan. In order to establish public-private partnerships, he said, we need to shorten our permitting process. 

This has been a constant focus of the Trump White House. As Mulvaney pointed out, the president knows from personal experience about the frustration of trying to cut through mountains of red tape in order to build something.

Currently, projects can take 10-15 years from inception to completion and sometimes longer. The endless disputes over environmental and zoning restrictions not only drive costs up but also deter private investors who cannot tolerate either the uncertainty or the extended time frame. 

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chow has spoken extensively on this issue, calling for common-sense reforms of the permitting process.


Democrats resist using private money, fearful that the opportunity for investors to make a profit leads to higher costs to taxpayers down the road and also concerned that some projects skirt union rules.

Those objections have been refuted by the likes of Terry McAuliffe, who as the Democratic governor of Virginia used public-private partnerships to the state's great advantage.

Common sense is in short supply in Washington, especially leading up to the 2020 election. Nancy Pelosi is determined to have some accomplishments to show for her successful takeover of the House in 2018, but she is equally determined to deny President Trump a win on a policy item as popular as infrastructure — even if it would help the nation. 

Ergo, it will not happen. And people wonder why Trump’s promise to drain the swamp was so popular.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. For 15 years, she has been a columnist for The Fiscal Times, Fox News, the New York Sun and numerous other organizations. Follow her on Twitter: @lizpeek.