Major elements of President Trump’s infrastructure initiative are facing staunch opposition from Democrats, increasing the likelihood that Republicans will have to go it alone.
Making a deal with Democrats on Trump’s rebuilding plan was always going to be a challenge for the administration.
But Trump’s sinking approval ratings, his polarizing tweets and his administration’s move to block oversight requests from the minority party have further eroded Democrats’ appetite to work with the president on one of his chief campaign promises.
“The president doesn’t make it any easier on himself,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “He’s going to have a hard time getting Democratic votes.”
The White House formally launched its $1 trillion infrastructure push this week with a string of events aimed at ramping up support.
Infrastructure legislation has long been billed as one of the few things that could receive broad bipartisan support this Congress, with Trump at one point calling Democrats “desperate” for such an initiative.
But Trump kicked off his infrastructure campaign Monday by announcing a proposal to separate air traffic control from the federal government — one of the most controversial infrastructure ideas floated by the administration so far, and one that was quickly rejected by Democrats.
“Trump’s ‘infrastructure week’ appears to be little more than a Trojan Horse for undermining workers’ wages and handing massive tax breaks to billionaires and corporations,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
“Trump’s ideas for privatizing Air Traffic Control — which recycle a tired Republican plan that both sides of the aisle have rejected — would hand control of one of our nation’s most important public assets to special interests and the big airlines.”
The proposal would transfer the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic control operations to an independent outside agency over three years “at no charge,” removing 30,000 FAA employees from the federal payroll. The FAA would still maintain safety oversight.
A similar spinoff plan for air traffic control stalled on the House floor last year because it lacked the votes to pass. Supporters of the proposal hope Trump’s leadership will help erode opposition this time around.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, however, Trump’s endorsement appeared to have the opposite effect.
Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats wrangle to keep climate priorities in spending bill Coons says White House could impose border fee for carbon-intensive products The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The omicron threat and Biden's plan to beat it MORE (D-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor to bash the plan, while his office blasted out a fact sheet seeking to rebut claims that the administration has made about efforts to upgrade the country’s infrastructure.
“Privatization, whether it’s for the construction of roads and bridges or in aviation, often leaves the average American with the short end of the stick and gives big corporations way too much power,” Schumer said.
“If this week is all about privatization, it will be another broken promise that President Trump made to the working people of America.”
The remarks from Schumer and Pelosi are a far cry from their statements following Trump’s election. At the time, both leaders mentioned infrastructure as an area where they would be willing to work with Trump, though they always maintained they would only support the package under certain conditions.
Pelosi emphasized that her party is still willing to work with the GOP on the issue, but said that the “Republican Congress must stop pushing plans that fail to create good-paying jobs for hard-working Americans.”
Trump’s infrastructure proposal, which was outlined in his budget request last month, would spend $200 billion to inject $1 trillion worth of overall investment into the nation’s transportation system by largely incentivizing private firms to back projects.
The private-sector model has raised concern among Democrats and rural Republicans who fear investors would only be attracted to projects that can recoup their revenue cost through tolls or user fees.
“A private-sector-driven infrastructure plan means tolls, tolls, tolls — paid by average working Americans,” Schumer said.
Democrats have also panned the administration’s budget request for proposing major cuts to several transportation programs, while at the same time advocating for increased infrastructure investment, which Schumer called a “sleight of hand.”
Several groups of Democrats have signaled that they would prefer to move ahead with their own infrastructure plans, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), which recently outlined a $2 trillion proposal in an effort to create a contrast with Trump.
“In reality, President Trump and Congressional Republicans are pushing a trillion-dollar corporate giveaway that would create tax incentives for Wall Street to privatize our roads, bridges, sanitation systems, and utilities, while raising tolls, fees, and bills — all through taxpayer subsidies,” the CPC outline says.
But there are other factors that are likely holding Democrats back from working with Trump on infrastructure.
With Republicans struggling to enact their legislative agenda, and Trump besieged by the FBI’s investigation into Russian election meddling, Democrats see little reason to deliver the administration a win.
“The reality is, it’s hard to convince anybody to do anything when you have a 36 percent job approval rating, because no one fears you,” Bannon said.
Further stoking Democratic outrage is a new policy from the White House allowing federal agencies to ignore requests for information from lawmakers in the minority party unless they have approval from a committee or subcommittee chair. In practice, the policy gives Republicans the power to stop all Democratic requests for documents.
Meanwhile, the president on Monday reignited public feuds with the mayor of London, the media, Democrats and his own Justice Department in a recent series of tweets. The firestorm is only likely to further drive Democrats away.
“This isn’t news, but there’s something wrong with this guy… This is a president who is completely out of control,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who has been pushing to upgrade the country’s water infrastructure, told CNN on Monday. “He’s the president of the United States. He’s not some guy with a blog.”
Democratic opposition to the infrastructure proposal could backfire, however, with Trump almost certain to label Democrats “obstructionists” if his infrastructure proposal fails to make headway in Congress.
But Democrats are betting their strategy of distancing themselves from the White House will pay off, especially as the party seeks to pull off a win in Georgia’s open House race, where they hope to use the special election as proof of a brewing backlash against Trump.
“If Democrats win in Georgia 6, it’s going to be a lot harder for the president to get them to go along with anything,” Bannon said.