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Trump scales down once-grand infrastructure ambitions

Infrastructure gets passing mention on State of the Union address; Democrats' ambitious proposal not mentioned at all

Infrastructure is among the areas where Trump and congressional Democrats don’t see eye-to-eye. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Infrastructure is among the areas where Trump and congressional Democrats don’t see eye-to-eye. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump used 189 words of his 2018 State of the Union address to call for a $1.5 trillion investment in U.S. infrastructure.

On Tuesday night, the former real estate mogul signaled how much times have changed.

Trump spent 29 words on the topic. Instead of calling for a mammoth federal investment, he endorsed a bill approved by a Senate panel in July that would focus largely on roads and bridges. 

“What happened to the $2 trillion plan he campaigned on and carries on about all the time?” House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., lamented Wednesday on the House floor.

With the 2020 elections looming, his relationship with Democrats in disrepair and a limited legislative calendar, Trump seems inclined to focus on the achievable.

[Ambitious infrastructure plan hits reality check: How to pay for it]

For him, that’s a five-year, $287 billion highway bill advanced unanimously by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in late July. That bill would represent an increase of 27 percent from the prior highway bill and would include GOP priorities of streamlining regulations in order to speed construction.

“What we can take away is that the president wants Congress to send him bipartisan infrastructure bills he can sign into law — that’s the only way infrastructure is going to get done,” said Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Trump made no mention of a $760 billion, five-year infrastructure framework introduced last week by House Democrats. That bill would include $329 billion for highways as well as money for airports, broadband, drinking water and clean energy. Democrats have promised to include new funding for school construction and repairs as well.

‘Green New Deal 2.0’

The administration dismissed that plan in a statement to The Washington Post earlier this week. 

“House Democrats have unveiled a principles document that appears to be an introduction of the Green New Deal 2.0 and is far from bipartisan,” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman. “In contrast, the White House is encouraged by the bipartisan legislation moving through the Senate and believes it to be a good starting point to tackling this issue for the American people.

“They opened the door to electrification and defossilization and climate resilience,” he said, “not real wide, but they opened it because [Sen. Thomas R.] Carper insisted on it, so we’re going quite a bit bigger in those areas but maybe we’ll have something to talk about.”

Besides, he joked, referring to Trump’s long recitation of accomplishments during Tuesday’s address, “he’s fixed everything else. I guess this would be the last thing.”

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he’s still hoping the House will write its own bill.

“Instead of just taking the Senate bill, why don’t we at least try?” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m still confident we can have a bipartisan infrastructure agreement.”

In an interview Wednesday, DeFazio said while the House bill is bigger, the Senate bill “has some decent policy in it.”

Speaking at a hearing of the Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said the panel is ready to move. 

“The Senate is ready to answer the president’s call,” he said.

But a key hurdle will be paying for the bill. The EPW bill does not address how to pay for the plan, and the 18.3-cent-per-gallon gas tax, which has not been increased since 1993, has less purchasing power as cars have become more fuel-efficient.

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