“But I also think we’re being played by the Democrats a little bit,” Trump said. “You know, I think what they want me to do is say, ‘Well what we’ll do is raise taxes,’ and we’ll do this and this and this, and then they’ll have a news conference, [where they’ll say] ‘See, Trump wants to raise taxes.’ So it’s a little bit of a game.”
Trump’s comments came ahead of a planned meeting next week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to talk about how to finance what both he and the Democratic leaders agreed during an initial meeting late last month is a need for $2 trillion in new spending.
The plan has since lost momentum, with Republicans balking at the hefty price tag. The Washington Post reported that after the first meeting between Trump and the Democrats, his own chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was telling people inside and outside the administration the effort is too expensive and unlikely to succeed.
“If Mick Mulvaney said that, then he has no right to say that,” Trump said in the Fox interview. “He tells me he didn’t say that, and he didn’t mean it. He said it’s going to be hard to finance.”
Finding $2 trillion in federal funds is a tall order.
According to a December analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, raising fuel tax rates by 35 cents and pegging them to rise with inflation would generate only about a quarter of the necessary revenue over 10 years. Since 1993, the rates have remained at 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel, and recent Democratic proposals to raise them have been far less ambitious.
Getting the remaining $1.5 trillion would involve much more significant tax increases, and Democrats have not been shy about eyeing the recent Republican tax cuts that disproportionately benefited corporations and wealthy individuals. But even fully reversing the corporate income tax cut, which dropped the rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, would not close the gap, and many Democrats are unwilling to go that far.
Trump, who campaigned on addressing the nation’s aging infrastructure, unveiled a plan last year focused on public-private partnerships that received a cool reception from members of both parties, who questioned the viability of relying on states, localities and the private sector to cover the bulk of its $1.5 trillion cost.
White House aides have said Trump is open to considering an increase in the federal fuel tax. But earlier this month, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, told reporters Trump had not endorsed the idea, which is backed by some Democrats and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“There are many different ways to pay for it,” she said. “You could have private-public partnerships. I know the Democrats will want to raise taxes. They want to raise taxes for everything.”
Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.