John Podesta, the chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, served as counselor to President Barack Obama and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.
Here we go again. It’s “infrastructure week” in Washington, which means another opportunity for President Trump to reward special interests, corporate polluters and Wall Street while pretending to be on the side of working people.
Our infrastructure is a vital national asset that shapes almost every aspect of our economy and how Americans communicate, travel and connect. With better roads, schoolhouses, and energy and water systems, our businesses would be more competitive, our workforce better- educated, our neighborhoods safer and our communities better connected to opportunity.
The country’s infrastructure desperately requires investment to repair and replace aging roads, bridges and other crucial needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our national infrastructure a D-plus and estimated that we have a $2 trillion, 10-year investment gap.
But policymakers must be clear-eyed about the end goal of federal infrastructure programs. Investments should spur economic growth, job creation and business formation, stimulate socioeconomic mobility and facilitate greater access to opportunity. Investments should also further safeguard our air and water from pollution and reduce harmful emissions. And investments should not prioritize lining the pockets of wealthy Americans and corporate chief executives.
Infrastructure was ripe for bipartisan agreement. Democrats in Congress were ready to work with the president to make good on his pledge to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure. But the Trump White House has rejected building a bipartisan consensus. Instead, the administration is pursuing only Republican votes for massive privatization, increased costs to taxpayers and weakening of environmental protections.
Rather than the trillion-dollar expenditure Trump promised in his campaign, his budget proposes only $200 billion over the next 10 years. Not only is this level of spending wholly inadequate to meet the country’s needs, but the Trump budget actually cuts billions more from existing infrastructure programs than it proposes in new spending, including slashing $96 billion from the Highway Trust Fund, scrapping rural water programs and even eliminating the popular and highly competitive Tiger program, which has provided billions in grants to transportation projects in all 50 states.
Somehow, it gets worse. On Monday, the president laid out his most concrete proposal so far: the privatization of the air traffic control system, handing over the publicly paid-for assets of the system to a nonprofit corporation controlled by the airlines. Supporters argue that privatization could expedite improvements to the system — even though most delays today are the result of weather and airline errors, not the air traffic control system. Worse, the “improvements” could in fact hurt consumers and businesses: To pay for the system, airlines could jack up airfares, cut service to smaller airports and infringe upon civil aviation, all without any public transparency or accountability. Anyone who thinks they’d do otherwise hasn’t flown commercial lately.
Finally, all signs indicate that Trump’s other infrastructure proposals are likely to be little more than tax breaks for wealthy Wall Street investors and giveaways to polluters. At an April 4 speech in front of corporate CEOs, Trump dramatically unfurled a chart designed to show the complexity of the infrastructure permitting process and vowed to eliminate regulations that supposedly get in the way of profit and growth.
The president’s big chart is little more than a visual aid in search of a problem. For example, one target is the National Environmental Policy Act review process. The goal of environmental review is simple: to foster more informed decision-making and greater public transparency by requiring federal agencies to study the environmental impacts of major decisions before making them. That’s common-sense stuff.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that 96 percent of federally funded highway and bridge projects require only limited review. The other 4 percent merit more thorough review precisely because they have the most potential to increase air pollution, compromise water quality or harm vital ecosystems. And it may come as a surprise to Trump, but the last Congress and the last president together worked closely with industry and passed a law to identify and dislodge permitting bottlenecks — without compromising environmental protections.
It is the president’s responsibility to respond to the needs of Americans — that should be his North Star. Instead, Trump is hurting not just his own voters but also every American affected by his decision to bend to the will of entrenched special interests rather than making public investments for the public good. The president can still salvage a sensible, bipartisan infrastructure bill, but if the first months of the Trump administration are any indication, the country is facing not only gridlock in Congress, but also more gridlock on our streets, more pollution and more giveaways to Wall Street.