On Tuesday, Democratic leaders traveled to the White House to talk to President Trump about infrastructure, and they came away with something that sounds a lot like an agreement — or at least it would if you haven’t paid attention to the merry-go-round we’ve had on this issue over the past 2½ years.
Here’s The Post’s report:
The two top Democrats in Congress said Tuesday that they had reached an agreement with President Trump to try to craft a $2 trillion plan aimed at overhauling the nation’s ailing roads, bridges, waterways and other infrastructure.
Emerging from the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) said they would meet again with Trump in three weeks to talk about what is likely to be a more contentious issue: paying for the plan.
“We want to hear his ideas on funding,” Schumer said, adding that Trump’s views will be a “crucial point” to moving forward on a rare potential area of bipartisan cooperation.
There has been a lot of chatter already that Democrats are foolishly offering Trump a way to get a big win in advance of reelection. And it’s true that in certain ways, it’s hard to imagine a rationale for Democrats giving Trump anything at all at this point.
After all, Trump is choking off all oversight and otherwise treating the House as fundamentally illegitimate, even as he is blasting Democrats for “TREASON” — while urging his own border officials to break the law by barring asylum-seeking and issuing unhinged threats about closing the border entirely.
But it’s very hard to imagine this actually getting to a deal.
First there’s the matter raised by Schumer, who asked for Trump’s “ideas on funding.”
According to a source familiar with the meeting, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon raised the issue of “fairness” in paying for the package, insisting that the middle class can’t foot the bill.
At that point, per the source, Schumer “summed it up by saying: we can’t make the tax code any more regressive,” and instead that it “needs to be more progressive.” This would presumably mean rolling back some of Trump’s tax cuts or raising taxes on higher earners in some other way, which Trump — and, even more so, congressional Republicans — would all but certainly oppose.
Second, how to fund an infrastructure bill points to another fundamental divide between Democrats and Republicans on this issue.
What it comes down to is that Democrats want to build infrastructure by building infrastructure. By contrast, Republicans would prefer to focus on giving tax incentives to private corporations, which would build the infrastructure and then control it, charging fees and tolls to continue to profit on it in perpetuity.
The last time Trump released an infrastructure plan, in early 2018, it was billed as a “$1.5 trillion plan.” In fact, it provided only $200 billion in federal spending. The rest was state, locatl and private spending that the plan’s drafters assumed would make up the difference. In addition, it was heavily weighted toward projects that would allow for private profits, actually included cuts to existing infrastructure spending and sought to waive environmental regulations that protect the air, water, wildlife and national parks.
Democrats are never going to agree to a plan like that one.
It’s a bit unclear what Trump himself actually wants. Axios reports that Trump aides say the president agrees more with Democrats on this question, and that Trump agrees that a plan must be funded by, in Axios’s words, “real federal money."
But even if that’s what Trump actually thinks, and even if Democrats and Trump did agree to an infrastructure package on principle, is there any way Republicans in Congress would go along with what is essentially a liberal idea?
It seems unlikely, to say the least. Not only that, Trump is going to be hearing from conservatives both inside his administration and on Capitol Hill telling him that the public-private approach is the way to go.
Just think about previous times Trump has strayed from what conservatives wanted. When there has been the slightest hint that Trump might accept a deal they hate, right-wing media wheeled into action to paint him as a weakling who was selling out his all-important base, and given his sensitivity to that frightful charge, he has backed down.
What’s more, as a senior Democratic aide pointed out to us, Trump just doesn’t have the bandwidth for getting something through Congress if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doesn’t want it to happen.
“Everything the Trump administration has achieved legislatively has been pushed through by McConnell,” the aide said. “If McConnell is not on board with a deal, Trump has shown no sustained interest in getting anything across the finish line.”
Now add in the fact that Democrats will insist, as they have made clear, that any infrastructure plan should include funds to mitigate climate change and invest in clean energy. That will immediately turn Trump off; he regularly displays his contempt for clean energy, sometimes going on nonsensical rants about the horrors of windmills.
So it appears likely that a real infrastructure initiative will have to wait for a Democratic president. And it’ll take a Democratic Congress to approve it.
There’s little doubt that Trump likes the idea of infrastructure. It means building stuff, and he loves the idea of grand projects with his name on them all across the land.
What’s more, infrastructure was key to his campaign promise to be a different type of Republican. Remember how, just after Trump won, Stephen K. Bannon offered a soliloquy on how Trump’s embrace of a “trillion-dollar infrastructure plan,” including “shipyards” and “ironworks,” would drive conservatives into a rage, even as it enabled Trump to build a new, transracial working-class populism?
Instead, as we have seen, Trump has sold out on that vow, outsourcing his economic agenda almost entirely to orthodox congressional Republicans.
In the end, Trump won’t agree to anything like the kind of plan Democrats want, and Democrats won’t agree to the kind of plan Republicans would ever approve. If there’s a way out of that dilemma, it’s hard to see what it is.