Trump’s infrastructure plan: What we know
Congress and the incoming administration have been dropping hints about one of Donald Trump’s biggest campaign promises: revitalizing U.S. roads, bridges and airports.
The president-elect vowed to deliver a massive rebuilding package to Congress within his first 100 days in office.
Elaine Chao, Trump’s nominee to lead the Transportation Department, echoed Trump’s calls to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure in her confirmation hearing this week, telling senators one of her top priorities will be to establish an infrastructure “task force.”
But Trump has yet to sketch out his plan in any sort of detail.
And major infrastructure investments — which conservatives have traditionally been wary of — will have to compete for attention with other priorities in the coming months.
Here is what we know about Trump’s proposal so far.
Timing may slip
There is broad consensus on Capitol Hill that an infrastructure package won’t take shape until after Trump’s first 100 days in office.
But it’s still expected to be a part of the 2017 agenda, with key transportation lawmakers anticipating that they will see legislation before the August recess.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), who leads the Transportation subcommittee on highways and transit, said a package will probably come “sometime this summer,” according to Transport Topics.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) told The Hill last week that Congress will explore ways to pay for infrastructure spending in the first 100 days.
“Then in the next second 100 days is when we’ll put together a big infrastructure package,” he said.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also indicated that the issue is likely to get addressed later in the year, saying it is something “we are happy” to add to the agenda.
“Those are the kind of innovative reforms we’re going to be working on between now and our spring budget, which is where we believe we will be able to address the infrastructure issue,” Ryan told radio host Hugh Hewitt.
Although the contours of the proposal are unlikely to emerge anytime soon, Chao told the Senate Transportation Committee she would try — though couldn’t promise — to start sharing early details with lawmakers about the tentative plan over the next month.
Size is up for debate
Trump has called for massive transportation investments, with proposals ranging from $500 billion to $1 trillion.
But a final package could end up being far smaller than those initial figures.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), the new chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, expressed reservations about such a large price tag.
“I don’t know that we’ve all settled on $1 trillion, even the administration,” Walker said during C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” on Sunday. “If it’s $1 trillion in infrastructure, that is something that we would have to say, ‘There’s a portion of this that we’re not comfortable with and come back to the table.’”
“As the legislative body, that is still our job,” Walker added.
Graves also conceded that he does “not think it will be that big.”
“We just simply can’t afford it,” Graves said, adding that it can’t all be done “through public-private partnerships as the president-elect is talking about.”
Private sector is preferred funding tool
Trump and his team have shown a strong preference for drawing in money from the private sector to pay for infrastructure priorities.
The idea is to offer financial incentives to private companies that want to back transportation projects.
Under that model, known as a “public-private partnership,” firms would bid on a project, build and maintain it for a set amount of time and recover costs through tolls or set state payments.
Trump has argued that it’s cheaper and quicker when private investors are in charge, as opposed to the federal government.
One proposal that Trump has floated would provide $137 billion in federal tax credits to companies that finance transportation projects, which he claims would unlock $1 trillion in investment over 10 years.
But Chao signaled in her confirmation hearing that the incoming administration may also be supportive of some direct federal spending on transportation.
“I believe the answer is yes,” Chao said when pressed by Democrats on the issue.
Still, even if the package requires the government to chip in some public funding for infrastructure, Trump is almost certain to rely heavily on private financing — especially since that funding mechanism is far more likely to garner the support of Capitol Hill Republicans.
Regulations will be streamlined
Trump has called for cutting the “regulatory red tape” that can slow down transportation projects.
Chao expressed support for streamlining regulations in any infrastructure proposal. A chief complaint of President Obama’s “shovel-ready” projects, contained in the economic stimulus package, is that they took too long to get off the ground.
“One of the major complaints is how long it takes for projects to be ready for bidding,” Chao said. “So the issue is not only how to fund infrastructure projects, but how to increase the pipeline of available projects.”
Shuster also pointed to regulatory reform as an important component of any infrastructure plan, saying there are “hundreds” of regulations that should be rolled back.
“Waters of the United States is the first one, and I think that’s one of those he can [undo] with the stroke of a pen,” Shuster said.
The plan may buy American
Trump has pledged to follow “two simple rules” when he is in office: buy American and hire American.
Lawmakers are expecting Trump’s infrastructure proposal to be held to the same standard.
“The president has made very clear his position on this,” Chao said during her confirmation hearing. “Of course all Cabinet members will follow his policy.”
But that could mean Trump and the House GOP are headed for a collision course.
Ryan dropped a so-called Buy America provision from a waterways bill last year that would have required American steel and iron to be used in certain drinking water projects.
Critics of the steel provision were concerned that directing federal funding to some companies over others would create an unfair system of winners and losers.
“Their position against Buy America is at stark odds with the president elect, who has repeatedly pledged two rules for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure: Buy American, and hire American,” pointed out Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
Trump is in the driver’s seat
Lawmakers from both parties have shown willingness to work with Trump on boosting the nation’s aging infrastructure.
But it’s clear that Trump is in the driver’s seat on this issue.
And Congress — which passed a five-year highway bill a little over a year ago — appears just fine with that.
“I think for the most part, it’s going to be driven by the administration,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters last week. “I assume at some point they will consult with us about what that might look like, and I’m anxious to engage in those discussions.”