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Conservative groups pressure Trump on infrastructure plan

Conservative groups pressure Trump on infrastructure plan
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Conservative groups are already pressuring President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE over his massive infrastructure proposal, warning him to avoid putting forward a package that adds to the deficit or favors members of Congress seeking pet projects.

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The scrutiny could cause headaches for Republicans eager to break out of gridlock and use their majority to deliver much-needed investments to the nation’s ailing transportation system.

“This will actually be an important test of whether his leadership makes a difference here in Washington,” David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, said Wednesday during a news conference.

Trump has long vowed to rebuild the country’s crumbling roads, bridges and airports, even giving a nod to the issue in his victory speech this week.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has signaled that Democrats would be willing to work with the Republican businessman on a jobs and infrastructure package.

But conservative groups will be keeping a close eye on how the legislation is fully paid for and whether it resembles the oft-criticized “shovel-ready” transportation projects contained in the 2009 economic stimulus package.

If Trump ends up letting Congress pass its own infrastructure legislation, that means “20, 30, 40 percent is pork projects, given to some member so they can name a garage after themselves,” McIntosh said. “If he wants to make a difference he’ll say, 'No, I mean infrastructure, guys.' "

"That’s going to be a tough task in this town,” he added.

Trump identified infrastructure investments as a top priority, calling them a “golden opportunity” to create jobs and boost the economy.

The real estate mogul’s blueprint calls for $1 trillion of infrastructure investment over a decade, according to an outline posted on Trump’s campaign website. The plan, which Trump claims would be revenue-neutral, hinges on offering tax credits to private investors and leveraging revenues from public-private partnerships.

"We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals," Trump said during his speech. "We are going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it."

President Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus law designated $100 billion for transportation and infrastructure. He also tried to move a $447 billion jobs package in 2011 that would have created a national infrastructure bank.

Republicans balked at the massive price tag of the 2011 legislation and linked it to the stimulus plan, which some critics say didn’t create as many jobs as promised and took too long to get off the ground.

Trump may find himself facing similar pushback if his proposal looks too similar.

“On some issues, like infrastructure, he may have more of a problem with his own party than he has with Democrats,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGreenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats MORE (D-Calif.) said during an appearance on CNN on Wednesday.

McIntosh urged Trump to veer away from a stimulus-style package. He suggested eliminating anything that could be seen as wasteful spending and crafting a plan that gives far more power and flexibility to the states.

“You eliminate all the projects that don’t actually build things that are needed,” McIntosh said. “One way that conservatives will support [the package] is you turn back the building of the roads and the bridges to the states. Send the money there, give them the authority to spend it. That’s the best thing they could do.”

Coming up with a long-term funding solution for repairing the nation’s infrastructure, however, has long divided Washington. The federal gasoline tax hasn’t been raised in more than 20 years.

“The speed bumps on the conservative side are over whether it’s offset or paid for,” said Jim Tymon, director of policy and management for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “It’s unlikely you’ll see a stimulus-like package move through. The economic climate isn’t what it was in 2009, when members of Congress were willing to deficit spend.”

Heritage Action has been sounding the alarm for months about a potential spike in the national debt under the next administration.

"Conservatives do not view infrastructure spending as an economic stimulus,” Dan Holler, the conservative group's vice president of communications and government relations, said Thursday. “It would be a mistake to prioritize big-government endeavors over important issues like repealing ObamaCare, reforming our regulatory system and expanding domestic energy production.”

Other groups flatly reject the notion of using infrastructure to stimulate economic growth, and believe that if there is an infrastructure crisis, it should not be fixed through federal spending.

“I won’t critique the financing specifics here, many of which are sketchy. Instead, I’ll focus on the assumption underlying the assumptions,” wrote Marc Scribner, a policy expert for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Contrary to the dominant political narrative from members of both parties, which is parroted uncritically by most of the press, there is little evidence that these public works projects promote long-run economic growth.”

Holler has warned the next president to resist deficit spending on “Obama-style” infrastructure plans.

“Republicans and Democrats must reject this notion that the federal government can continue borrowing money to spend our way to economic opportunity for all,” he said.

But Trump told The New York Times this summer that he supports borrowing and spending in order to boost economic growth, which would be a break from traditional Republican principles.

Trump even praised Obama’s economic stimulus package in 2009.

“I thought he did a terrific job,” he told Fox News, according to BuzzFeed. “This is a strong guy who knows what he wants, and this is what we need.”

— Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.