The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump would cut more in federal infrastructure spending than he proposes to add, Democrats say

President Trump meets with state and local officials about infrastructure at the White House on Feb. 12. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

While President Trump touted his long-awaited plan Monday “to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure,” his budget would cut more federal spending on such programs than it would add, according to an analysis by Senate Democrats.

Trump’s infrastructure plan, which he pitched at the White House on Monday in a meeting with state and local officials, calls for spending $200 billion in federal funds over the coming decade. The hope is that it would stimulate what the White House says could exceed $1.5 trillion in new investment in roads, bridges, waterways and other infrastructure, when spending by other levels of government and the private sector is factored in.

Besides unveiling his infrastructure plan, Trump also released his 2019 budget blueprint Monday. Combing through it, the office of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) identified more than $240 billion in proposed cuts over the coming decade to an array of existing infrastructure programs — a higher number than what Trump is proposing in “new” spending.

White House budget proposes increase to defense spending and cuts to safety net, but federal deficit would remain

The White House's spending priorities for 2018 renege on President Trump's promises to lower the deficit and keep Medicare and Medicaid spending without cuts. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The cuts identified by Schumer’s office include a $122 billion reduction in outlays over the coming decade to the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road projects and mass transit. Other proposed reductions would target an array of programs that fund rail, aviation, wastewater and subsidized housing.

Later Monday, Trump administration officials pushed back on the analysis, claiming it wildly misrepresented reality.

“Given the urgent need to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, it’s odd that the senior senator from New York would misunderstand elementary funding features of our transportation system,” said John Czwartacki, communications director for the Office of Management and Budget.  “One might assume that the minority leader, and a former member of the Senate Finance Committee, would understand the aspects of, well … finance.”

Among other things, OMB officials disputed that the reduction in Highway Trust Fund outlays should be considered a cut. Rather, they argue, the lower spending level reflects that available revenue will not match the targeted spending level.

OMB also said Schumer included cuts to some programs that the White House does not consider “core infrastructure” and that the senator incorrectly assumed that some short-term cuts would necessarily last 10 years.

Of the $200 billion in new federal spending that Trump is proposing over the coming decade, half would be used to create an incentives program to reward states and localities that invest more in infrastructure projects. The money would be doled out on a competitive basis, with awards that amount to as much as  20 percent of a project’s cost.

An additional $50 billion would be directed to rural infrastructure programs, distributed to governors through block grants.

And $20 billion would be spent on “transformative” projects, such as plans to build tunnels for high-speed trains.

The remaining $30 billion would be used to significantly expand loan programs, for private activity bonds and for a capital financing fund.

In his remarks at the White House on Monday, Trump said his initiative would “spur the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.”

His task in coming weeks will be to sell the plan to many skeptical members of both parties.

Trump said what he has produced is “a common-sense and bipartisan plan that every member of Congress should support.” But he seemed to acknowledge the challenges ahead in lobbying lawmakers.

“If for any reason they don't want to support it, hey, that's going to be up to them,” Trump said. “What was very important to me was the military. What was very important to me was the tax cuts. And what was very important to me was regulation. This is of great importance, but it's not nearly in that category.”