President Trump told members of the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee that lawmakers can find funds to pay for a major infrastructure investment program out of a pending tax overhaul, and could perhaps combine those measures, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
That, along with reports that Trump also told lawmakers he is still pushing for an infrastructure plan while aides said they continue to develop an administration proposal, raised the issue’s profile at a time that some observers felt a project funding program might be pushed well into 2018.
Congress is working on a number of major legislative goals or requirements that could push ahead of infrastructure, including ongoing healthcare proposals, negotiating a broad fiscal 2018 government spending plan, and trying to work out deals related to immigration to avoid a potential government shutdown when current government funding expires in December.
With all that as well as a push to enact tax cuts, some lawmakers and stakeholders have begun to think the promised but long-delayed infrastructure proposal might simply wait until next year. However, that timing could cloud its prospects for success as Congress gears up for a major round of elections to determine who controls the House and Senate in 2019 and 2020.
Reports said two groups of senators met separately with officials at the White House on Oct. 18, as Commerce Committee Republicans met with aides to discuss a potential infrastructure package and Finance Committee members from both parties hudded with the president on tax reform.
Later, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) told The Hill newspaper that Trump’s aides provided lawmakers with “a lot of clear commitment to the passage of an infrastructure bill,” but also with “no sense of timing” for when the administration would roll out its plan.
The Hill also reported that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told reporters that in the separate meeting on taxes, the president suggested perhaps combining the infrastructure plan with the tax measure.
Politico reported that in the tax reform meeting, Trump repeated his recently reported remarks that he does not favor public-private partnerships to pay for infrastructure.
Sen. Brown, the story continued, said he asked Trump: “Where will we come up with the money?” for project investments. The senator told Politico that Trump said changes in taxes would “be so successful and produce so much growth that we’ll have enough money to do infrastructure.”
While Congress and transportation stakeholders wait for the Trump plan to emerge, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, has said the committee is crafting its own legislation as well behind the scenes. Barrasso in an Oct. 5 hearing said ranking EPW Democrat Tom Carper of Delaware wants to join that effort, and “I look forward to his participation and input.”
Other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers have introduced infrastructure proposals as well, some with ideas on raising revenue.
So far, Congress has been waiting for the administration to take the lead, but it is not clear if one or more of the congressional measures could gain momentum as lawmakers search for issues that could provide bipartisan legislative victories.