Where Is Trump’s Great National Infrastructure Program Today?

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The President during his campaign for the presidency talked of a $1 trillion program to repair our nation’s infrastructure—bridges, railroads, highways, etc. As it promised to put to work that large workforce idled by the present economy and require a long-absent bipartisan effort, most of us have awaited this event with considerable hope. The following information on where it stands was extracted from an  article in this Sunday’s New York Times—not too hopeful, unfortunately.

By GLENN THRUSH, July 23, 2017 for The New York Times

In the White House, Mr. Trump has continued to dangle the possibility of “a great national infrastructure program” that would create “millions” of new jobs as part of a public-private partnership to rival the public works achievements of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. He chastises anyone who forgets to include it near the top of his to-do list, telling one recent visitor to the Oval Office, “Don’t forget about infrastructure!”. . .

Mr. Trump’s team has yet to produce the detailed plan he has promised to deliver “very soon,” and the president has yet to even name any members to a new board he claimed would greenlight big projects.

Unlike the transformative 20th-century efforts the president likes to cite at his rallies, any plan that eventually emerges will not rely exclusively on federal funds. Instead, it will try to use $200 billion in federal spending to attract an additional $800 billion in investment from private investors and local governments over the next 10 years.

Its hybrid nature is its greatest virtue. It’s also a drawback. Democrats and centrist Republicans remain skeptical of its limited scope. House conservatives remain hostile toward any big, new federal funding program. As a result, Mr. Trump’s top advisers and Republicans on the Hill are uncertain on how to proceed and unsure what is even possible given the party divisions exposed by the Obamacare repeal effort. . . .

“Infrastructure is in my opinion very popular,” the president said in April. “It’s going to be bipartisan. And I’m going to use it in another bill. That’s an important bill.”

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“Right now, it doesn’t appear that they have a plan,” said Richard L. Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., who is pushing for more federal spending. “The president doesn’t know what his own party wants, and he’s not sure what he wants. He can’t get his own party to pony up the money for infrastructure.” . . .

Mr. Trump plans to name members of the infrastructure panel in the coming weeks. But contrary to what he told The Wall Street Journal this year, the committee won’t have the authority to approve or reject projects, according to an administration official. Instead it will serve in a broader advisory capacity. . . .

Senate Democrats are increasingly unwilling to work with Mr. Trump on anything. Nor is there consensus among Republicans on how to proceed. . . .

The idea of an all-in-one bill combining tax reform and infrastructure also has internal skeptics. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin shot it down at a meeting with House members recently, arguing that a combined tax and infrastructure bill was “too big to pass,” according to notes taken by an attendee. . . .

For his part, Mr. Trump is most concerned about being able to tell voters his plan hit the $1 trillion mark — raising concerns that the administration will simply include previously scheduled local projects in its overall tally to claim victory. . . .

The one thing that is not in dispute is the monumental need to do something. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $4.6 trillion is needed to fix crumbling highways, bridges, transit systems and waterworks, and to build out the nation’s power grid and broadband networks.

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But lawmakers from states with rural populations are concerned that local governments will have to collect tolls or raise fees to bankroll projects that are not profitable enough to attract big investors. “My concern is, that works very well for large urban states, but it’s not really feasible for rural states like Maine, where you simply can’t generate the same kind of revenue,” Senator Collins said. . . .

In the absence of a concrete proposal to sell, Mr. Trump’s staff has focused on what it can control — cutting regulations and harvesting “low-hanging fruit” to show some progress, in the words of one administration official. . . .

Mr. Trump ended the week with what seemed like a genuinely new, if modest, proposal: a plan to create a council to streamline federal permitting coupled with an online “dashboard” to track federal projects. . . .

One problem. A similar law was passed in 2015. The two senators who introduced the legislation — Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, and Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican — felt blindsided.

Someone simply forgot to give the two senators a heads-up — and the president veered off script to make the project seem as if it were his idea.

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