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 Chao 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 Ross, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue also made the case for President Trump’s rebuilding blueprint, which allocates $200 billion in federal seed money that the administration argues will lead to a $1.5 trillion overhaul. 


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 Thune (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 Nelson (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.”

Tags Alex Acosta Bill Nelson Donald Trump Elaine Chao Infrastructure John Thune Rick Perry Senate Commerce Committee Sonny Perdue Trump Cabinet Wilbur Ross

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