White House and Congress Readying Infrastructure for 2018

By Shaun Courtney

Congressional leaders and the Trump administration are putting together the pieces to make infrastructure a key priority for 2018, a White House spokesperson said after a Dec. 11 meeting on infrastructure.

President Donald Trump, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and several other administration officials met at the White House to discuss the president’s infrastructure principles. According to a senior administration official, the White House will set forth its vision for a promised $1 trillion infrastructure proposal in January, Bloomberg News reported Dec. 8.

Congress would begin the work of writing legislation once the White House submits its set of principles, which administration officials have in several public forums described as a 70-page document.

The White House had included infrastructure as a priority for Trump’s first 100 days and later promised a package by the fall, but both deadlines have passed. More recently the message from the White House and congressional leaders has been that infrastructure would come after taxes.

The president in recent weeks has included infrastructure among his priorities for the new year, along with reevaluating the welfare system and taking another attempt at overhauling the health care system.

“The President had a productive meeting with Rep. Shuster, during which they discussed the President’s bold plan for rebuilding America’s infrastructure, which has fallen into an unacceptable condition due to decades of misguided policies,” the White House said in a statement. “He looks forward to working with Rep. Shuster and his colleagues in Congress to turn this vision into legislation next year.”

Getting to Work

Shuster called his meeting with the president a “very positive step forward,” in a statement.

“I look forward to working with the President, the Administration, and my congressional colleagues as we move into the new year to identify specific proposals and priorities,” he said.

Members of Congress are meeting with the administration about infrastructure the week of Dec. 11, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) told Bloomberg Government Dec. 6.

“We’re just starting to have conversations with the White House and the administration on what they want to see in an infrastructure bill. We’re working through that,” Graves said during an interview.

No Appetite, Nor Ability?

Trump’s $1 trillion plan calls for $200 billion in direct federal investment paired with $800 billion from state, local and private sources.

Transportation and infrastructure interest groups and advocacy organizations had hoped that the recent tax overhaul would have included funding streams for infrastructure. Repatriated funds from companies with business overseas had been one option for infrastructure, but instead went to pay for tax cuts. Other groups had hoped the bill would identify a steady revenue source for the Highway Trust Fund, which faces a shortfall in 2020.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) called on members of the tax bill (H.R. 1) conference committee to include revenue provisions to increase transportation infrastructure investment, in a Dec. 8 letter.

“It is unclear how Congress and the Administration will be able to fund a significant infrastructure initiative next year. Any successful infrastructure investment plan must include additional federal funds and we remain concerned that Congress will not have the appetite nor ability to raise those funds once the tax reform effort concludes,” the organization wrote in a letter signed by AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) criticized the tax bills passed in the House and Senate for “starving our ability to invest in infrastructure, education, scientific research, and endangering Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid,” according to a Bloomberg Government transcript of floor remarks.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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