Trump gets chance to sell nation on rebuilding plan

Trump gets chance to sell nation on rebuilding plan
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE will pitch his long-awaited infrastructure plan during his inaugural State of the Union address next week, using the stage as an opportunity to start selling both Congress and the public on his ambitious rebuilding effort. 

The infrastructure package is shaping up to be one of the few policy items left on the GOP agenda this year after must-pass pieces of legislation such as spending bills and debt-ceiling legislation are resolved.

But doubts are growing on Capitol Hill about whether lawmakers will be willing to rally behind a bipartisan infrastructure bill, especially in the wake of a nasty fight over immigration that led to this month’s three-day government shutdown.

Lawmakers say the ability to muscle the rebuilding proposal over the finish line will likely rest squarely on Trump’s shoulders. 

“I think the president is going to have to play a big role. It’s going to take a lot of presidential leadership to get infrastructure,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump's border funding comes back from the dead Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices MORE (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters this week. 

“A lot of it will come down to how is it paid for, and the substance will matter in terms of whether or not there is bipartisan support for it.” 

Trump has long promised to rebuild U.S. roads, bridges, airports and other public works with a massive infrastructure package. The idea is to use $200 billion in federal seed money to create $1 trillion worth of overall infrastructure investment by raising revenues from the private sector and local governments. 

But the rebuilding initiative, which Trump initially promised to release within his first 100 days in office, slipped to the back burner last year as the GOP instead prioritized other issues such as taxes and health care. The administration has since missed a series of self-imposed deadlines to release more details about its infrastructure plan. 

Both White House officials and lawmakers say Trump will finally outline his infrastructure vision during his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, with legislative principles expected to land on Capitol Hill shortly thereafter.

“The President has an opportunity to lay out his framework for infrastructure investment on Tuesday night and I am eager to hear it,” Rep. Bill ShusterWilliam (Bill) Franklin ShusterAnti-corruption group hits Congress for ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill 'revolving door' Republicans spend more than million at Trump properties K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers MORE (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement. 

“The American people want their leaders to act and there is interest on both sides of the aisle. I am optimistic that this can be a place for bipartisan cooperation.”

Trump’s speech will come a week after a leaked draft of the infrastructure plan, which was obtained by The Hill, surfaced in several media outlets.

The bulk of the funding in the proposal, according to the draft document, would go toward an incentive program that rewards cities and states that raise their own revenue for infrastructure projects. The draft also specifically recommends removing “constraints” currently in place on public-private partnerships for transit systems, including a federal ban that prohibits tolling on existing interstate highways.

The rest of the money would go directly toward rural infrastructure projects, transformative projects and existing infrastructure financing tools. The administration will also pair the proposal with permitting reform in order to streamline the construction approval process. 

The draft did not answer one of the stickiest questions for the entire initiative, which is how it would ultimately be paid for.

Trump’s policy adviser D.J. Gribbin suggested at a U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering this week that the White House would cut funding from current transportation programs in order to help pay for Trump’s new proposal, according to multiple reports.

That idea is sure to run into fierce resistance on Capitol Hill.

Democrats blasted Trump’s budget request last year because it proposed slashing funding from the Department of Transportation, including making significant cuts to Amtrak and a popular transportation grant program started by the Obama administration. 

The administration maintains that some of these grants are ineffective and should be repurposed into more effective transportation programs.

But Democrats think that’s a disingenuous way to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure if there are no new revenues dedicated to the issue.

Finding new funding sources for infrastructure has long eluded Washington, despite bipartisan agreement about the need for new investments.

Republicans have remained staunchly opposed to hiking the federal gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised in over 20 years. Meanwhile, the GOP tax plan used up another potential funding offset for infrastructure: corporate tax reform. 

Further complicating matters is that Republicans are insisting that the infrastructure proposal be fully paid for — a demand that Democrats are sure to highlight as hypocritical, given that the GOP tax-cut bill was projected to add over $1 trillion to the deficit. 

Democrats have also taken issue with the details of Trump’s tentative plan, which they have labeled as a corporate giveaway that will create more tollways. 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.  

Meanwhile, some conservatives worry that the incentive program will only lead to more states and cities raising their taxes. 

That means Trump will have his work cut out for him when it comes to selling his bipartisan infrastructure bill on Capitol Hill. 

The president will first have to convince fiscal conservatives in own party, who have long been wary of massive federal spending on transportation, to support his effort. 

And then Trump will need to get enough Democrats on board with his plan, which will be no easy task heading into the midterm elections — especially after a year of bitter partisan fights over immigration, taxes and health care.

“Unfortunately, everything thing I’ve heard indicates that the president’s proposal will fail to meaningfully address our infrastructure crisis,” said Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Deadline approaches for 2020 Dems Dems eye big infrastructure package, with or without Trump Dems, Trump pull T surprise on infrastructure MORE (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  

“If this is their plan, the administration is going to have a very tough time finding enough Republicans and Democrats to support it.”

— Mallory Shelbourne contributed to this report