Five obstacles to Trump’s infrastructure ambitions


President Trump plans to put his long-awaited infrastructure package at the top of his 2018 agenda, eager to notch another legislative victory now that he’s signed a major tax overhaul. 

The White House will unveil “detailed legislative principles” in January outlining Trump’s infrastructure vision, which lawmakers will use as a blueprint to craft a bill while Trump works to sell the idea to the public, state and local officials and members of Congress. 

“We’re going to get infrastructure; infrastructure is the easiest of all,” Trump said in the Oval Office last week when he signed the tax bill into law. “People want it, Republicans and Democrats.”

{mosads}But the ambitious rebuilding effort could face roadblocks in both parties, with Republicans concerned about new government spending and Democrats wary of handing Trump another win. 

Here are five obstacles that could knock Trump’s infrastructure plan off course. 


While the infrastructure proposal has long been billed as one of Trump’s few bipartisan initiatives, Democrats have so far balked at the rebuilding ideas floated by the White House. 

The administration has proposed giving tax credits to the private sector for backing infrastructure projects and rewarding cities and states that raise their own revenue for infrastructure. The White House also plans to use $200 billion in federal seed money, along with massive permit reform, to leverage $1 trillion worth of infrastructure investment.

Democrats have slammed the public-private partnership model as a corporate giveaway that will only lead to more toll ways. They worry the administration’s proposed local incentive program will pave the way for “devolution” — or eventually handing off all federal infrastructure duties to local governments. 

They also are concerned that streamlining the construction permitting process will lead to the erosion of environmental protections.

Democrats instead prefer to inject federal funding directly into the nation’s transportation system and have laid out their own competing $1 trillion infrastructure package.

With Democrats feeling cut out of the White House’s bill-writing process, they may be less inclined to come to the negotiating table. Their votes have become even more critical in the Senate after the special election in Alabama this month sent a Democrat to the upper chamber and chipped away at the GOP’s slim majority there. 

It also may be difficult for Democrats to pivot toward a bipartisan infrastructure deal after a year of ugly partisan fights over health care, taxes and other contentious issues, and some in the party may be reluctant to help Trump put more points on the board.

“Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much bipartisanship lately,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a statement to The Hill. “Few outside of the administration actually know what’s going to be in the president’s plan, whether they will include highly controversial provisions, or how it will be paid for.” 

Nelson is up for reelection next year. 

Fiscal conservatives

An infrastructure bill was always going to be a tough sell with fiscal conservatives, who are wary of massive federal spending on transportation.

Trump initially labeled infrastructure a 100-day priority, but Republicans instead pressed the White House to focus on tax reform, health care and other GOP priorities.

Some Republicans are still pushing the administration to take another crack at repealing and replacing ObamaCare in 2018.

There have also been mixed messages from congressional leaders about whether infrastructure will be a top goal for the GOP next year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Senate Republicans should pursue more bipartisan legislation like infrastructure in the coming year. 

But Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he wants to tackle welfare and entitlement reforms next year — perhaps using a special budget process to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

Trump could make an infrastructure bill more appealing to Republicans if it’s fully paid for, reforms the environmental review process and repeals labor regulations.

But all of those conditions risk pushing away Democrats from supporting the plan. 

Funding offsets

One of the biggest question marks surrounding Trump’s infrastructure plan is how to pay for it.

While the administration has outlined the broad contours of Trump’s rebuilding proposal, there have been far less clues about how it will be funded. 

One idea that seemed to be gaining traction earlier this year was to pay for infrastructure with revenue from repatriation, when corporations return earnings stored overseas and pay a lower tax rate.

But that method was instead used in the GOP tax plan, dashing hopes that offshore tax reform could be used to help upgrade U.S. roads, bridges and other public works. 

Another funding offset being considered by the White House is hiking the federal gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised in more than 20 years.

But the politically risky move is almost certain to run into a buzz saw of opposition from Republicans and conservative groups. 

“The administration is looking at a fuel tax,” Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, told The Hill earlier this month. “But I’d like to pivot toward [vehicles miles traveled], at least in the commercial sector.” 

“To be quite honest, it’s going to be quite hard to move [a gas tax increase] in the House,” Graves added. 

Crowded agenda

Lawmakers are facing a daunting to-do list in the first few months of 2018, increasing the chances that infrastructure could be pushed off the agenda. 

When members return to Washington next month, they will have to quickly grapple with all the sticky issues they left unfinished when passing a stopgap spending bill last week to keep the government open until Jan. 19. 

House and Senate leaders will have to reach a deal on a bipartisan budget agreement, which will lay the groundwork for a massive, trillion-dollar omnibus package to fund agencies for the rest of the 2018 fiscal year. 

But several other issues are complicating the budget talks, including whether to include measures stabilizing ObamaCare and providing help for immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

Congress will also have to raise the debt ceiling and pass another reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration before March.

And some Republicans are also pushing for entitlement reform and repealing and replacing ObamaCare, all of which could suck up the oxygen on Capitol Hill. 

Midterm elections 

Transportation advocates have long voiced concern that an infrastructure bill might not get over the finish line if it gets pushed back to 2018.

Part of the reason is that there are midterm elections next year. Major achievements are generally more difficult in election years because there is less time on the legislative calendar and lawmakers are more conscious of how votes might impact them in primary races and general elections.

Election-year politics could come into play with an infrastructure bill if lawmakers need to raise revenue for the package by increasing fuel taxes or user fees. Either step could prove unpopular with voters.

There could also be reluctance from lawmakers in both parties to put their name next to Trump’s on an infrastructure bill, for fear he could drag them down in the midterm elections — especially if Trump’s approval ratings continue to hover in the low 30s.

Democrats “made it very clear they could not provide us votes [on taxes] because they are afraid of their primaries,” Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) told Fox News on Wednesday, discussing the prospects of a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“My fear is much of today’s politics is not about policy or what’s good for society.”

Tags 2018 midterms Bill Nelson David Schweikert Donald Trump Donald Trump Infrastructure Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Sam Graves
See all Hill.TV See all Video