Republicans rush to help shape Trump’s infrastructure plan

Republicans rush to help shape Trump’s infrastructure plan
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Lawmakers are scrambling to help shape President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal as the administration considers speeding up its timetable for the legislative package.

Dozens of Republican lawmakers on Wednesday offered their ideas to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao about the emerging plan to repair U.S. roads, bridges and airports, a key campaign promise for Trump.

Following a defeat on healthcare reform, Chao said the infrastructure measure could now be unveiled as soon as next month — a major shift from the administration’s initial goal of fall.


“It’s music to my ears,” said Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James Barletta10 bellwether counties that could signal where the election is headed Bottom Line Ex-GOP congressman to lead group to protect Italian products from tariffs MORE (R-Pa.), who was a member of Trump’s transition team. “[Trump] doesn’t wait very long. He’s moving forward quickly, and I think Congress needs to begin to run instead of skipping.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members say they are eager to focus on infrastructure spending. Barletta said the panel would hold an initial hearing on the proposal for members to help offer input on the bill.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda NRSC chair says he'll back GOP incumbents against Trump primary challengers MORE (S.D.), the Senate’s No. 3 Republican and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the upper chamber would be willing to move on Trump’s legislative priorities in whatever order they come.

“We’ll be willing to process whatever they send us, and we’ll do it in a timely way,” Thune said. “And if it precedes tax reform, then we’ll take it in order. But I think a lot of this is just going to be driven by when the administration is ready to submit and present their proposal.”

 Chao said during a town hall event at the White House on Tuesday that the administration is still in the process of crafting a $1 trillion bill that “will probably be in May or late May.”

The proposal wasn’t expected to be considered until much later in the year, after Congress tackled healthcare and tax reform. But since the House failed to move forward on ObamaCare repeal last month, some have predicted that the timeline for priorities such as infrastructure may be accelerated.


Chao touted the administration’s plan to the House GOP conference during an hourlong meeting on Wednesday attended by dozens of lawmakers.

“She talked about the infrastructure bill and how important it is to the president. Forty-five members were there asking lots of great questions,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

Democrats expressed frustration at being excluded from the meeting, which was part of an ongoing effort by the House GOP caucus to introduce members to Trump’s Cabinet.

Citing a “collaborative effort,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) called for Chao to be invited to address the full transportation panel. 

“Maybe then they wouldn’t have the problems they had with the healthcare bill,” she said.

Republicans at Wednesday’s meeting made their own pitch to Chao about what should be targeted in the bill, according to members who attended the meeting.

“It was a bunch of people asking questions, and they were very parochial questions about specific things in their districts,” said Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.).

Lawmakers brought up projects such as a decaying bridge in Ohio, an oft-criticized high-speed rail project in California and an airport in American Samoa without an air traffic control tower.

Others voiced complaints about the Army Corps of Engineers and how long it takes for projects to get approved for a permit — an issue that Trump has vowed to address in his bill.

There will likely be a wide range of infrastructure interests competing for a slice of the funding pie, which Trump said could top $1 trillion.

Chao has said the legislation could include money for energy, water, broadband and veterans hospitals, while Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has maintained that it could include funding for housing, according to The Washington Post.

Trump has also floated the idea of giving projects a 90-day deadline to get off the ground in order to receive any funding.


“We’re going to be very strong that it has to be spent on shovels, not on other programs,” Trump said Tuesday. “If you have a job that you can’t start within 90 days, we’re not going to give you the money for it.”

But Shuster said key details of the measure, such as how to pay for it and how to best leverage private-sector dollars, still need to be worked out.

Some lawmakers are pressing Trump to use international tax reform to pay for infrastructure upgrades.

Reps. John Delaney (D-Md.), Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott Yoho7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics Why AOC should be next to lead the DNC Ocasio-Cortez defends Biden's incoming deputy chief of staff amid blowback MORE (R-Fla.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) have presented their ideas to the administration. The trio recently introduced legislation aimed at tapping into cash stored overseas and using that revenue to revitalize the country’s infrastructure.

“I’ve shared this with [Vice President] Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSchumer calls for DOJ watchdog to probe alleged Trump effort to oust acting AG Calls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack Capitol rioter claims he was 'duped' by Trump, lawyer says MORE and said these are the things we have,” Yoho told reporters. “And Mike Pence says, ‘You know what, you’ve brought this up to me before. We’re seriously looking at it.’ ”

But questions remain over whether Trump’s proposal would be able to move quickly through Congress, where long-term funding solutions for infrastructure have long remained elusive.

Infrastructure could also bump up against other priorities if the bill is released in the spring. Lawmakers need to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration before its legal authority expires in September, while tax reform and healthcare may still be on table.

“From a transportation end, it’s easy. There’s bipartisan support for improving infrastructure. Where we always get into trouble is how do we pay for it,” said Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations MORE (R-Texas). “On the Transportation Committee, there’s going to be no problem. I’m glad I’m not on the Ways and Means Committee dealing with that.”