Democrats remain skeptical of Trump’s rebuilding plan

Democrats remain skeptical of Trump’s rebuilding plan
© Greg Nash

Democrats on Thursday said they remain skeptical of President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE's infrastructure plan even after Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Kathy Griffin offers her guesses on anti-Trump op-ed author A fuel-economy change that protect freedom and saves lives MORE defended the overhaul before a key Senate panel.

In her first congressional testimony since the White House’s infrastructure rollout last month, Chao told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that “every dollar counts” when it comes to addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs.

“By incentivizing new investment on infrastructure, eliminating overly burdensome regulations, providing support for rural America and streamlining the permitting process, the department is helping to improve our quality of life and build a better future for all Americans,” Chao told the panel of lawmakers.

But lawmakers — despite agreeing any infrastructure bill will need bipartisan support — are split over how building plans would be funded, with Democrats saying the White House blueprint doesn't provide a sufficient amount of federal funds.

During Chao's testimony, Democrats continued to criticize the plan for repurposing other transportation funds and questioned its strategy of using a $200 billion federal commitment to generate a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package.

“I was surprised when I finally saw that the administration’s plan devoted 15 pages to permitting, while the word ‘pay-for’ failed to appear even once. Even once,” ranking Environment and Public Works Committee member Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperPrimary turnout soars in 2018 with Dems leading charge Cynthia Nixon camp partially blames high turnout for loss Raimondo beats back primary challenge in Rhode Island MORE (D-Del.) said during the hearing. “Maybe I missed it, but I don’t think so.”

Lawmakers from both parties had questioned how an infrastructure overhaul would be funded in the months leading up to the Trump administration's proposal release. But the long-awaited unveiling of the White House plan left Democrats disappointed.

Democrats say the plan pushes the financial responsibility for infrastructure projects onto the states and skirts the federal government's historic role in rebuilding.

“Maybe it’s like the miracle of the loaves and fishes. It did work 2,000 years ago, but I just don’t think it’s going to work here,” Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Overnight Energy: Warren bill would force companies to disclose climate impacts | Green group backs Gillum in Florida gov race | Feds to open refuge near former nuke site ICE: No immigration enforcement in areas of hurricane shelters or evacuations MORE (D-Mass.) said of the proposal’s emphasis on financing from state and local governments, referring to a story in the Bible.

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Warren bill would force companies to disclose climate impacts | Green group backs Gillum in Florida gov race | Feds to open refuge near former nuke site Warren wants companies to disclose more about climate change impacts DHS transferred about 0M from separate agencies to ICE this year: report MORE (D-Ore.) in an exchange with Chao suggested the administration’s infrastructure strategy may be “moving chairs around on the deck of our infrastructure Titanic,” arguing the plan would cut certain transportation funds from the department’s budget to be repurposed for a public works overhaul.

“It appears to me we’re not making the type of commitment we’re pretending to make,” Merkley told Chao, who rejected the senator’s description.

“I think there’s a disagreement about the purpose and use of federal funding,” Chao told Merkley. “If you look at 2017, it’s actually not a cut. 2018 went up, and therefore that’s how you consider it a cut,” she added, referring to the budgets for those years. 

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The White House believes that federal investment will spur revenue from the private sector. That funding, in addition to money from states and local municipalities through a match incentive program, would produce the $1.5 trillion package, according to the Trump administration.

Chao on Thursday maintained her department’s commitment to working with Congress on an infrastructure package, but Democrats were not convinced that the current proposal could achieve the administration’s stated investment goal.

“I don’t understand how we’re going to get to $1.5 trillion. I don’t understand the $200 billion because I think it’s recycled money, so we’re not really putting any more up,” Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinMore Dems come out in public opposition to Kavanaugh Overnight Defense: Officials rush to deny writing anonymous op-ed | Lawmakers offer measure on naming NATO headquarters after McCain | US, India sign deal on sharing intel Lawmakers introduce resolution to back naming NATO headquarters after McCain MORE (D-Md.) told the Transportation secretary.

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Defense: Details on defense spending bill | NATO chief dismisses talk of renaming HQ for McCain | North Korea warns US over cyber allegations Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law Trump authorizes sanctions against foreign governments that interfere in US elections MORE (D-Md.) echoed Cardin’s concerns, describing the $200 billion of federal investment as a “hallucination” without a revenue stream for the package.

“Look, we’re talking about a $200 billion plan which many of us thinks is already too small to start with.” Van Hollen told Chao.

“The leverage assumptions, many of us think, are way off. But even that $200 billion is a hallucination until we have a real funding source.”

Still, Van Hollen noted lawmakers’ historic bipartisan agreement over the need to address America’s crumbling roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and other public works. The disagreements continue over how to fund the overhaul, which Democrats argue requires a higher direct federal investment.

“We’re going to need more than $200 billion to be able to move forward,” Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthDems should run as economic progressives, says ex-Obama strategist Democrats must reconcile party factions to raise blue wave odds Senate Dems want DOJ review of Giuliani's work for foreign entities MORE (D-Ill.) told Chao.