With scandals, investigations, staff defections, guns, budget battles and more dragging his administration down, President Trump has been counting on a big legislative victory for his $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan to provide him with the big win he desperately wants before voters go to the polls in the November midterm elections.
Instead, it appears Trump can add infrastructure to the long list of things that won’t get done this year, and may never get done as he has proposed it.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) says that it will be tough to pass an infrastructure bill by the end of this year “because lawmakers are facing a host of other priorities,” reports Politico.
“I think it’s gonna be hard,” Cornyn told reporters, “because we have so many other things to do and we don’t have much time.”
It may seem odd that eight months isn’t much time but the big problem is not just writing a bill but finding the $200 billion that will be required to finance it under Trump’s plan.
Trump calls his proposal a public-private partnership because he wants the federal government to put up $200 million, and use it to leverage state and local governments, and private investors to put up the other $1.3 trillion needed to build roads, repair bridges, update the power grid and the many, many other badly needed items and fixes.
To pass, the infrastructure plan would likely need at least some Democratic support, as well as keeping all the Republicans on board, and that too is not assured.
Democrats have complained that the $200 billion is not nearly enough of a contribution from the government to get the job done, especially when it comes to things like rural projects that big investors may resist because it won’t provide them with enough of a return on their money.
The Democrats are also unhappy that Trump wants to stuff the bill with cuts in regulations that set standards for the projects, how money is to be spent and tracked and much more, to speed up the process.
Democrats are less interested in speed than in getting it done right and doing it in a way that can be tracked and checked and will last for many years.
Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), who is chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, also said it is unlikely that infrastructure will be passed this year because there is so much else to do, and ultimately because of the money problem.
Thune said how to pay for the legislation is “a big problem.”
Finding $200 billion in a normal year, with past presidents, might have been more likely if the legislation could be written to make the federal commitment bigger, but this isn’t the usual year.
Last December, the Republicans got their one big legislative victory when they managed to pass a huge tax reform bill that cuts taxes for the rich and big corporations.
As a result, the national debt is set to swell by at least $1 trillion, and that is if all the overly optimistic projections for growth of the U.S. economy turn out to be true, which at this point seems unlikely – so the cost could be significantly higher.
The money might also be found if there was a lot of fat to cut in the current budget but Trump has ravaged social programs already and is cutting everything from school lunches to the National Endowment for the Arts, so there is no Democratic desire to cut even closer to the bone for this program.
The Congress to keep the government running has already spent $300 billion above the budget which it needs to find just to keep the lights on, and that will be a challenge.
There are all those extra billions being shuffled to the defense department but Republicans are not going to want to face voters this fall and have to explain why they had to back peddle on overly generous boosts to military spending they insisted were necessary only months ago.
Infrastructure is not even the only big Trump legislative initiative unlikely to pass this year.
Trump’s plan to split up the Federal Aviation Administration also looks like it will be grounded this year.
Trump wants to split the FAA and air traffic control, which would be spun off into a nonprofit organization.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who was taking the lead on the FAA reinvention for Trump, says now that he will no longer push the bill which has been held up for months by various concerns from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle,
Shuster said in a statement he still believes the plan is a “good government reform,” but he says it has been held up because “some of my colleagues refused to support shrinking the federal government by 35,000 employees, cutting taxes, and stopping wasteful spending.”
What that means in the real world is that some members of Congress worry that when they go up in an airplane, they want to know the air traffic controllers are qualified, have enough resources and can keep air safety as the top priority.
So Trump’s legislative agenda which was weak in his first year looks to be even weaker in his second year in office, leaving him with executive orders to talk about, while he deflects all of the scandals and failures that his administration is known for.
When the infrastructure is crumbling to the point there are massive problems getting from here to there, clean water is not flowing, electric power is unreliable and bridges are collapsing, the government will finally figure out how to pay for the repairs and replacements because that is what it has come to – crisis management.
Trump’s plan to sell off our airports, roads, bridges, power grids and water works in the most populated and lucrative areas – and place new costs and tolls on everything – was always a non-starter, much like his pathetic administration.