Democrats Want Update, and Trump’s Ear, on Infrastructure Plan

By Shaun Courtney

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee needs an update on the White House’s $1 trillion infrastructure funding proposal, committee Democrats wrote to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Chao had initially said the plan would be available by third quarter. She then said it would be ready by late fall before delaying it to after tax overhaul efforts. Congress first began tax overhaul discussions the week of Sept. 25.

“Senate Democrats have put forward our own ‘Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure,’ which would invest $1 trillion in our nation’s infrastructure, creating over 15 million American jobs,” the group wrote. “We stand ready to work with our Republican colleagues on a significant infrastructure effort such as the one we have proposed.”

President Donald Trump provided an opening for such overtures earlier this week when he was reported to have met with Ways and Means Committee Democrats. He reportedly took a position against public-private partnerships, which were supposed to account for a major portion of the $800 billion in non-federal infrastructure investments.

House and Senate Democrats are pressing the Trump administration on infrastructure both behind the scenes and in the open, hoping the president might come around to the idea of increased direct federal investment the nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems.

House Is Ready

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) spoke during the week of Sept. 25 with the president’s special assistant on infrastructure policy, D.J. Gribbin, to discuss what Democrats could do to deliver on infrastructure.

“I’ve shown that they can get this done if they want to do it. If they want real investment, I have given them a gift, which is that DeFazio and other Democrats are willing to work with the Freedom Caucus,” DeFazio told reporters Sept. 28. “We have bills that they would support that we would support.”

DeFazio and fellow committee member Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) called on the White House to drop its support for Chairman Bill Shuster’s (R-Pa.) proposal to spin off air traffic control into a non-governmental entity. The proposal is part of the House’s Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill (H.R. 2997).

The White House embraced Shuster’s proposal earlier this spring as an example of the role private entities could have in infrastructure. But Shuster has had to scrap several proposed floor votes when he did not have enough members to pass the bill. He is planning another vote date for October.

“I think the administration is really missing an opportunity here because all of the money for a down payment on their infrastructure package is in the piece of the aviation bill we all agree to,” Larsen told reporters Sept. 28.

Update Please

The administration needs to give Congress the right signals on infrastructure, DeFazio said.

“There’s a question of who’s going to lead? I can’t from the minority,” DeFazio said.

Absent a signal from the White House, Democrats are left sending letters and making requests for a whiff of what the administration has planned.

“We request that you and any other appropriate Administration officials meet with us to share the Administration’s long-awaited infrastructure plan,” the letter said. “We would hope that you will be able to formally transmit the Administration’s plan to Congress so that we may understand the Administration’s priorities as we get to work on developing a comprehensive infrastructure investment package.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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