Trump's pursuit of infrastructure deal hits GOP roadblock

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE faces stiff opposition from Republicans in his desire for a massive infrastructure package.

GOP lawmakers say the president’s grand proposal for a $2 trillion deal is too ambitious and warn that they will oppose any measure that adds to the deficit.

Many Republicans also say they are against raising taxes to pay for an infrastructure initiative, a stance that would make it extremely difficult to find money to finance a package even half the size of Trump’s desired amount.

ADVERTISEMENT

Congressional Republicans say they are worried about passing a reprise of former President Obama’s 2009 fiscal stimulus, which was devoted to “shovel ready” infrastructure projects and “green” energy production.

That legislation added more than $800 billion to the debt and later became a focal point of GOP charges that Obama had blown up the deficit.

“If we’re going to do infrastructure, I think we ought to pay for it. I don’t think we ought to put it on the debt,” said Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate GOP leader.

But he also noted “there’s never been much appetite on either side up here, Democrat or Republican, for” raising the gas tax, a key revenue raiser for highway projects.

“I think $2 trillion is really ambitious. If you do a 35-cent increase in the gas tax, for example, indexed for inflation, it gets you only half a trillion [dollars],” Thune said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySupreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress The Hill's Campaign Report: Florida's coronavirus surge raises questions about GOP convention McCarthy calls NY requests for Trump tax returns political MORE (R-Calif.) also sounded skeptical.

“How do you pay for it? That's the biggest question — that's the hardest part,” he told The Hill.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump wears mask during visit to Walter Reed Barr recommended Trump not give Stone clemency: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Miami pauses reopenings as COVID-19 infections rise, schools nationally plot return MORE (R-N.C.), the leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Congress has a much better chance of passing legislation to lower prescription drug prices than advancing an infrastructure package.

“You would have to have a gas tax to do it, and we’re not for a gas tax,” Meadows, who speaks regularly to Trump, told The Hill on Thursday. “I mean, $1 trillion you could maybe do; $2 trillion, there is no way to get the money other than raising taxes and there is not an appetite for an increase in taxes by Republicans in the House or the Senate.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats seek to tie GOP candidates to Trump, DeVos Texas lawmakers ask HHS to set up field hospital, federal resources in the state GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, said, “I don’t think raising the gas on working men and women is a good idea — it’s pretty regressive.”

Other Republicans, such as Sen. Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesMore Republicans should support crisis aid for the Postal Service Senate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate MORE (Mont.), are ruling out any tax increases to pay for an infrastructure package.

“No, I wouldn’t raise taxes,” he said, acknowledging that finding a way to pay for infrastructure is the biggest challenge to any prospective deal.

“That’s going to be the heaviest lift of all of this, is figuring out a way here from a fiscal viewpoint making this affordable on our current balance sheet,” he said.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerBipartisan senators seek funding for pork producers forced to euthanize livestock Top Georgia Republican endorses Doug Collins Senate bid Senators balance coronavirus action with risks to health MORE (R-Neb.) said she opposes increasing the gas tax and called it “a regressive tax.”  

When asked how to pay for infrastructure in lieu of tax increases, GOP lawmakers say they need more time to study the issue.

Fischer said she hasn’t traditionally favored passing a comprehensive infrastructure package and says it’s “more realistic” to pass separate bills funding roads, rail, ports, airports, broadband internet, and power transmission. 

Some GOP lawmakers have since raised concerns that funding a wide array of projects ranging from roads to railroads to airports, broadband and power grids, could deplete money available for the upcoming Highway Trust Fund reauthorization, which they want to pass this year.

“The other problem that’s going to come up is we’re bumping up against highway reauthorization,” said Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick The Hill's Coronavirus Report: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig says choirs are dangerous; Pence says, 'We have saved lives' 7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports MORE (R-Ark.). “That’s going to take a lot of dollars. The Highway Trust Fund is depleted … it’s going to be very difficult to fund that.”

Many Republicans were caught off guard by Tuesday’s announcement that Democratic leaders reached a deal with Trump to pursue a $2 trillion infrastructure package. GOP lawmakers were not invited to the White House meeting. 

Republicans pushed back immediately on some of the core elements that emerged from that meeting, particularly the price tag and that the federal government would kick in the lion’s share of funding.

Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneHouse panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief says he opposes invoking Insurrection Act for protests | White House dodges on Trump's confidence in Esper | 'Angry and appalled' Mattis scorches Trump Republicans stand by Esper after public break with Trump MORE (R-Ala.), a candidate for the Senate in 2020, told The Hill that “$2 trillion is a lot of money.”

“I want to keep an open mind, because there could be a pay-for I can vote for, but I don’t know what it would be at $2 trillion. That’s a lot of money. It’s a big number,” he said. “And when you try to do things around here that are too big, they just don’t happen.”

The Trump administration previously floated a plan whereby the federal government would fund only 20 percent of the investment and give the private sector incentives to come up with the rest.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs MORE (N.Y.) on Tuesday said Trump came closer to the Democratic position of having the government pay for as much as 80 percent.

“We agreed to $2 trillion and the president was happy to push up the number a little bit,” Schumer told reporters after the meeting.

Schumer also noted that Trump didn’t rule out raising taxes to pay for the package.

Democratic leaders said they discussed with the president expanded broadband for rural areas and inner cities, along with more efficient power grids.

Schumer said Trump “agreed the old 20-80 [federal-private split in funding] was much too low” and that “he doesn’t like these private-public partnerships.”

House Republican Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseCheney clashes with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up MORE (La.), however, defended private-public partnerships.

“There are public-private partnerships that have been successful. You know, we ought to look at every option to see if those kind of partnerships help us build more roads and help meet the needs of communities,” he said. “Ultimately this should be driven by local communities and they need to have skin in the game, too.”

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate GOP hedges on attending Trump's convention amid coronavirus uptick Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Romney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention MORE (R-Wis.) said he also favors limiting the federal contribution to 20 percent.

“My guess is it’s probably not going to go very far,” Johnson said of the sketched-out $2 trillion proposal.

He said the president “has got to start getting support from Republicans as well.”

Trump and Democratic leaders plan to meet in another three weeks to discuss how to pay for their infrastructure plan.

Republican lawmakers have floated various ideas to fund infrastructure without raising taxes.

McCarthy, the House Republican leader, suggested selling government lands. 

"Well, you know there's a bill out there that has Democrats and Republicans on it, the GAIIN Act, sell the government excess property so that's a way and then it goes to the hundred poorest districts, so that's a good place to start," he said.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads How conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle MORE (R-Ky.) said the administration could pay for infrastructure by withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and other combat zones.

“We spend about $50 billion a year in Afghanistan. I think we could bring some of that home and use it,” he said. “Where they find $2 trillion is beyond me unless they end some of the wars we’re involved with.”