A group of senior Senate Democrats on Tuesday unveiled their own $1 trillion plan to revamp the nation’s airports, bridges, roads and seaports, urging President Trump to back their proposal, which they say would create 15 million jobs over 10 years.
The Democrats said their infrastructure plan would rely on direct federal spending and would span a range of projects including not only roads and bridges, but also the nation’s broadband network, hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and schools.
Eager to drive a wedge between the new president and congressional Republicans, Democrats see talk of infrastructure projects as a way to piggyback on Trump’s frequent vows to repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges and persuade him to adopt ideas that would put him at odds with GOP leaders, who have done little to embrace what would amount to a major new government spending program.
Advisers to Trump have said they would rely on federal tax credits and public-private partnerships rather than federal spending to pay for a new infrastructure program.
“Our nation’s infrastructure issues are vast, and they go well beyond just road and bridge repair,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement announcing the plan. “Each day, too many students attend school in buildings so decrepit the pipes leach lead into their drinking water, our country’s heroes sit in VA hospitals that are crumbling beneath them, and millions in rural communities cannot kick-start local business because they lack access to the critical high-speed Internet they need.”
Economists generally think that improving infrastructure would increase productivity and economic activity. However, neither the Democrats nor Trump have come to grips with how they would pay for their infrastructure plans without adding to the government’s budget deficit.
Trump’s advisers — commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross and trade adviser Peter Navarro — have argued that the tax-credit scheme would be revenue-neutral, something roundly criticized by economists across the political spectrum. Tax credits would provide windfalls to existing infrastructure plans. They would give incentives to new projects with tolls even if other priorities without revenue streams, such as maintenance, might be more urgent. And they would complicate a tax code that Trump has vowed to simplify.
Democrats said they would pay for their program by closing tax loopholes, an oft-stated pledge by both Democrats and Republicans. They did not specify which tax loopholes would be used.
Schumer unveiled the plan with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and six other senior Senate Democrats: Bill Nelson (Fla.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Thomas R. Carper (Del.).
Their 10-year blueprint included $75 billion for schools, $210 billion for roads and bridges, $110 billion for aging water and sewer systems, $180 billion for expanded rail and bus lines, $70 billion for deeper ports and upgraded airports, $100 billion for an updated electrical grid, $10 billion for VA hospitals, and $20 billion for broadband installations.
The plan also includes $200 billion for unspecified “vital infrastructure projects” and $10 billion for an infrastructure bank to “unlock” private capital by providing loan guarantees or low-cost loans.
For every billion dollars in spending, 13,000 jobs lasting at least a year would be created, they said, citing a Federal Highway Administration estimate.
Schumer’s plan would address the need to deepen ports to handle larger container ships, expand and upgrade airports such as New York’s La Guardia and Kennedy airports, and modernize the nation’s electricity grid to guard against cyberattacks and to accommodate growing supplies of renewable energy.
“Senate Democrats have unveiled this blueprint because we need a wide-sweeping infrastructure plan — and we need it now,” Schumer said.
After Trump’s victory in November, Schumer told The Washington Post that he had found some of Trump’s economic policy proposals “surprising.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump “had a Democratic philosophy on trade, on infrastructure, on carried interest and tax loopholes,” Schumer said in the November interview. “We’re challenging him to work with us on those in a real way. If not, he will have broken his promise to blue-collar voters, and it’s my view that the Democratic aspects of his economic program is what brought the blue-collar vote to him, more than anything else.”
If Trump wants to rebuild the nation’s transportation system, “it’s got to be bold, large, it’s got to have new spending, new expenditures,” Schumer added. “It can’t just be tax breaks because that won’t get enough done.”
Senate leaders in both parties have long used their perch to project or fund key home-state industries or concerns. Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) directed military shipbuilding to ports in Pascagoula, Miss., while the current Senate leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has fought to protect the coal industry from Obama-era regulations. During his tenure, Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), the past Senate minority leader, poured federal dollars into green energy jobs across his state.
Schumer told The Post last October that as a Senate leader, one of his primary home-state issues would be to find ways to direct federal transportation dollars to the New York metropolitan region. He cited the “Gateway Program,” a long-sought expansion and renovation of a key part of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor rail line that includes building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey.
“We have to do it or the economy will collapse,” Schumer said of the Gateway project. “And we never know when this tunnel will collapse. So we’ve got to move quickly.”
Trump, meanwhile, has also taken a personal interest in infrastructure projects, given his background in commercial real estate and construction. He has asked New York real estate developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth to lead a new council devoted to giving him advice on infrastructure projects.
LeFrak, a friend of Trump’s, said Monday morning on CNBC that Trump “has to come up with a financing plan and I think there’s going to be a little bit of a tug of war between the conservatives in the Republican Party who are concerned about deficits and the president who’s concerned about jobs.”
LeFrak said that Trump would prevail.
But the real estate tycoon also said that Trump’s most ambitious plans might end up being scaled back.
Referring to the word “trillion,” LeFrak said of Trump: “I think he’d like it to start with a ‘T,’ but I think the number I’ve heard tossed around is around $550 billion.”
The subject of spending on infrastructure projects came up during a meeting at the White House on Monday evening between Trump and top congressional leaders, especially between Schumer and the president, according to one participant.
“They thought that was an area maybe to find common ground, and then [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell made the important point it needs to be paid for because we’ve got $20 trillion in debt,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) recounted to reporters after returning to the U.S. Capitol on Monday night.
Schumer declined to elaborate on the White House visit: “We discussed some substantive issues, I’m not going to tell you what,” he told reporters.
Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.