Infrastructure bringing together Trump, Democratic leaders
The last time President Donald Trump sat down with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, the president walked out in a huff and dismissed their government shutdown talks as a “total waste of time.”
Nearly four months later, the leaders are coming together again Tuesday, this time in search of a plan to fix the country’s crumbling infrastructure. It’s seen as the one issue with the best chance for the two sides to work together this Congress — and even that isn’t given good odds for a fruitful ending.
The meeting plays out against the backdrop of high tensions over escalating Democratic investigations following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling. Lawmakers and the Republican president also have on eye on the 2020 elections, meaning every provision of an infrastructure package — including how to pay for it — will be made with that in mind.
More than one “infrastructure week” already has come and gone over the past two years with nothing to show for it. Still, advocates for an infrastructure package boost see a narrow window for action.
“I think a deal can be had if everybody is willing to put their battle axes away for a period,” said former Republican Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, who served as chairman of the House’s transportation committee for six years.
A compromise could offer political benefits to both sides. Trump’s re-election prospects are tied to a strong economy that would get another boost from new road and bridge projects. House Democrats have passed an array of bills that have gone nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Pelosi has dozens of new Democratic House members who won in competitive districts, said Shuster, and “they need to be able to go home next year and say they’ve accomplished something.”
But the two sides also have some competing priorities that will complicate matters. The president and Republican leaders want to speed up the permitting process for building energy and transportation projects and that’s not on most Democratic lawmakers’ to-do lists. Democrats are looking for ways to pay for greater infrastructure spending without adding to the national debt, and that could mean higher fuel taxes.
The Trump White House has sent conflicting signals on that issue. On Friday, the president tweeted that California’s recent 12-cent increase in the state’s gas tax was “causing big problems on pricing for that state. Speak to your Governor about reducing.” When asked if Trump could support a higher federal gas tax, economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Monday, “He hasn’t made up his mind on any of that yet.”