Donald Trump’s top aides met at the White House last week to brainstorm for a bill that would spend up to $200 billion over 10 years on infrastructure products.
The White House and congressional Democrats tried and failed last year to come up with a plan that would have been acceptable to both parties. But Trump, who made infrastructure spending one of the goals of his presidential campaign in 2016, still wants to get something done in his first term.
The hour-long meeting, convened by the National Economic Council and helmed by NEC Director Larry Kudlow, was described as a “status conference” to discuss how best to move forward on a package once the government shutdown ends.
But it’s not clear whether the administration will move forward to publicly announce a new plan of its own, or wait for Democrats in Congress to bring their own infrastructure proposal out first.
The White House is thinking of using the plan to fund the next generation wireless network, modernize the air traffic control system, and use the re-authorization of the highway bill as a basis for additional road repair.
The two sides are far apart in both the scope of a bill and how to pay for it.
Democrats insist any plan must include new revenue. Trump administration officials have been meeting with congressional Democrats in recent months to talk about highway funding and infrastructure issues.
The administration proposed a plan last year to use $200 billion in federal funds to try to stimulate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure improvements over 10 years, but would have cut an equivalent amount in projected infrastructure spending from the federal budget as it shifted more costs to states and cities.
The plan was declared dead on arrival and never got a vote in Congress.
The Trump administration has not decided how much, if any, of last year’s plan to include in its new proposal.
Trump’s proposals are far more realistic than the Democrats’ pie in the sky ideas and would cost considerably less. And while no one really wants to, raising the gas tax will be on the table to fund some of those highway repair projects.
Democrats would love to go to their voters in 2020 with a great, big, fat, pork-laden infrastructure bill, and Trump would love to make the success of passing a more modest, but significant bill a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.
With those kinds of incentives for both sides, a deal seems likely.