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Capitol Watch: Trump Promises Infrastructure, Congress Mulls Details

By Anna Denecke, Associate, Blakey & Agnew

In his January 20 inaugural address, President Trump pledged, "We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation," later adding, "with American hands and American labor."

Trump's emphasis on infrastructure investment during his first few minutes as 45th President of the United States came after months of similar rhetoric on the campaign trail, where the then-candidate vowed to invest as much as $1 trillion into the network. Now, it's up to Congress to make Trump's promise a reality.

So far, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have declined to release specifics on how to pay for Trump's proposal. It's also unclear whether the President favors public-private-partnership enabling legislation, like some of his senior advisors are on record supporting, or if he'd favor an infrastructure investment program with robust direct federal investment.

Democrats, meanwhile, are eager to prove they're more than an opposition party and are rolling out early versions of proposals that they believe Trump could support. On January 24, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Democrats released a 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan. Among other increases, the "Blueprint to Rebuild America's Infrastructure" calls for a $10 billion investment in TIGER and an additional $200 billion for a new Vital Infrastructure Program (VIP).

VIP, according to the blueprint, is designed to focus federal investment on the nation's "most critical and transformative transportation projects," including freight and goods movement projects. The program would include broad eligibility for all modes of surface transportation and distribute "significant funding to enable immediate completion of major projects across the nation."

Meanwhile, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, outlined his plan for investment at a February 1 Committee hearing. Were DeFazio to have his way, a major

infrastructure investment bill would funded through an indexed gas and diesel tax, spending down of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and by other transportation-related revenue generators.

While DeFazio has jurisdiction over transportation policy, he would need the Ways and Means Committee to take up his tax-related revenue wish list. Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA), a senior member of Ways and Means, gave POLITICO insights into his Committee's priority list on February 2, noting "we're not talking about infrastructure right now." Instead, the Committee is focused on revamping the corporate tax code and overhauling the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans aren't ignoring the issue of infrastructure funding, however. Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE), chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, introduced legislation on February 1 aimed at addressing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) shortfall. The Build USA Infrastructure Act would divert revenues collected by the Customs and Border Patrol on freight and passengers to the beleaguered HTF beginning in 2020, the same year the FAST Act expires.

While Fischer's legislation is not a solution to the immediate challenge of finding revenue or offsets to pay for Trump's infrastructure plan, it does propose a partial solution to the longer-term surface transportation revenue problem that is often raised during conversations about Trump's infrastructure investment package.

Blakey & Agnew, LLC is a public affairs and
communications consulting firm based in
Washington, DC.