Trump Cabinet members press Senate panel on infrastructure overhaul

Trump Cabinet members press Senate panel on infrastructure overhaul
© Greg Nash

A Senate panel on Wednesday heard five different Trump Cabinet members press hard on the need for an infrastructure overhaul. 

Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine ChaoHogan won't say if he will file to run for Senate by Feb. 22 deadline Top Republicans pressing Hogan to run for Senate Biden returns restores tradition, returning to Kennedy Center Honors MORE was joined by four other Cabinet members at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, as Chao testified for the third time this month on the administration’s infrastructure proposal.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossMomentum builds to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks Census memo notes 'unprecedented' Trump administration meddling: report Holding defiant Trump witnesses to account, Jan. 6 committee carries out Congress's constitutional role MORE, Labor Secretary Alex AcostaAlex Alexander AcostaOn The Money: Trump slams relief bill, calls on Congress to increase stimulus money | Biden faces new critical deadlines after relief package | Labor rule allows restaurants to require broader tip pooling Labor rule allows restaurants to require broader tip pooling Federal litigator files complaint alleging Labor secretary abused his authority MORE, Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryTrump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook What we've learned from the Meadows documents Trump war with GOP seeps into midterms MORE and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueSonny PerdueThe hero of Jan. 6 whose name must not be spoken With soaring demand for meat, it's time to fund animal-free protein research Perdue on possible run for Georgia governor: 'I'm concerned about the state of our state' MORE also made the case for President TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE’s rebuilding blueprint, which allocates $200 billion in federal seed money that the administration argues will lead to a $1.5 trillion overhaul. 

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But neither the administration nor lawmakers have identified a clear revenue stream for Trump’s plan, which seeks to incentivize both local and private investment.

Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSmall ranchers say Biden letting them get squeezed These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Watch: GOP leaders discuss Biden's first year in office MORE (R-S.D.) said he expects some sort of legislation to move this year, but noted that there has been a struggle to identify how to pay for the plan.

“I think it’s realistic that something could happen that would constitute a down payment on a bigger, more robust bill,” Thune told reporters after the hearing.

“I think the key right now is whether or not we have sufficient resources to fund an infrastructure package.”

The question over how to pay for a sweeping infrastructure package has plagued lawmakers for years and has been one of the main issues overshadowing Trump’s push for the legislation as Democrats continue to dismiss the $200 billion pitch.

“So how are we going to pay for it?” committee ranking member Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonOvernight Energy & Environment — Earth records its hottest years ever Global temperatures in past seven years hottest ever observed, new data show NASA welcomes chief scientist, senior climate adviser in new dual role MORE (D-Fla.) asked during the hearing.

“We can’t toll our way out of it,” he added in an apparent reference to the administration’s suggestion to lift a ban on states’ ability to collect tolls on interstates.

But the Cabinet secretaries touted various aspects of Trump’s plan that would help their respective departments.

Acosta, for example, emphasized the push for workforce advancement in the framework, which calls to extend the eligibility for Pell Grants, widen the practice of apprenticeships and alter trade licensing requirements.

“As we build infrastructure, we must also ensure that we think about the American workforce that will build this infrastructure and that ultimately benefits from these efforts,” Acosta told the committee.

Perry praised the plan for pushing to streamline the permit process and for providing state and local governments with “flexibility” on infrastructure projects.

“First and foremost, the president’s plan, it embraces America’s time-honored federalist tradition,” Perry said.

Trump’s rebuilding proposal says a quarter of appropriations would go toward rural projects in the form of block grants to states so governors may decide where to invest.

“The president’s plan gives the nation’s governors the power and the flexibility to prioritize infrastructure projects that would benefit their respective states,” said Perry.

Perdue plugged the administration’s emphasis on rural infrastructure and highlighted the need to expand rural broadband.

“Let’s just get it done for the American people because it’s needed in order for American producers and agriculture to remain competitive,” Perdue said. “This is a very important issue.” 

But the administration’s push has hit a wall in Congress, as House leadership appears reluctant to take up a sweeping infrastructure bill and Republican lawmakers in both chambers openly question the likelihood of passing a public works overhaul this year.

Thune on Wednesday conceded that a rebuilding effort could come in the form of several bills, a suggestion Speaker Ryan (R-Wis.) made last week about infrastructure legislation in the House.

“I think because of the multiple committees of jurisdiction it inevitably probably will get spread out a little bit,” Thune told reporters. “It could be individual bills that get marked up, reported and then married up on the floor."