Each week, the “Can He Do That?” podcast explores critical questions about what today’s news means for our nation and its highest office. Listen here.
Since the beginning of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has been talking about infrastructure and the promise of new roads, railways, tunnels and bridges.
And earlier this year, President Trump released his $1.5 trillion infrastructures spending proposal ... a proposal that, thus far, has gotten essentially nowhere in Congress.
But that doesn't mean that Trump isn't making significant changes to the way that the United States funds its big transportation projects and how we weigh the value of those projects.
On this week's episode of “Can He Do That,” we talk about the ways that the Trump administration is shifting the nation's priorities to push for investment in rural roads, advocate for private-sector funding and decrease federal contributions to public transit projects in urban centers.
And we're looking at the United States' infrastructure policy landscape through the lens of the Gateway Tunnel project, and a recent kerfuffle on Capitol Hill over federal contributions that had been expected to be earmarked to help that New York-New Jersey project along.
“The idea that any one transportation project was going to be an issue in this huge trillion-dollar-plus spending bill for the president of the United States was, to say the least, a surprise,” said Post congressional reporter Mike DeBonis.
DeBonis broke the news that Trump threatened a veto of this year's omnibus in an attempt to force House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to eliminate an earmark for the tunnel project. And when New York and New Jersey lawmakers found out, they were mad. Many of them viewed it as part of a presidential vendetta against Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“The idea that he was going to veto this bill over this tunnel project was mystifying to a lot of people — but not terribly mystifying when you looked at the politics of it,” DeBonis said.
We also talk to transportation reporter Michael Laris, who discusses the ways in which the Trump administration has begun to funnel transportation grant funds to projects in rural parts of the country — projects that, in many ways, appeal to Trump's political base.
In the process, he and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao have been putting more pressure on public transit administrators in urban areas to take on greater responsibility for scrounging up the funding for their own projects and relying less on the federal government.
“I think that's going to continue to be something that the political conversation is going to revolve around,” Laris is. “Who is best for areas that are forgotten? And that counts in rural areas but in other poor areas, too. That's something that's important in the cities, as well.”
Laris says that this question continues to affect infrastructure policy.
“Who's got the back of the forgotten?” Laris said. “That has been an important political theme. And neither side is willing to give that up.”