Infrastructure was the Trump era’s running joke, but Democrats are serious about it

What are the chances trillions of dollars can be found to fix highways, bridges and broadband?

Griffin Connolly
Monday 15 March 2021 13:36 GMT
Nancy Pelosi on the Covid rescue plan

It’s a long-running joke among the dorks on Capitol Hill that every week during the Trump administration was Infrastructure Week.

Anytime the former president appeared to be going off the rails by airing his personal political grievances – usually against various folks at the Justice Department or FBI – the Trump White House would declare the next seven days Infrastructure Week in a half-hearted ploy to lasso the conversation back towards policy.

The joke here is that Trump was always teetering on the rail’s edge. Ergo, every week was Infrastructure Week. Ba-dum tsss.

Mr Trump flirted throughout his presidency with joining up with congressional Democrats to, in his words, “go big” on a package to bring broadband internet to rural America, revamp the nation’s roads and bridges, and initiate hundreds of new projects to usher crumbling US infrastructure into the 21st century.

In the spring of 2019, the then-president briefly gave Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell an aneurysm after his Democratic counterpart Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi emerged from a White House meeting announcing the president’s support for a $2trn deal on infrastructure.

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(Prospects for a deal were short-lived as Mr McConnell quickly made clear such a package would be a waste of everyone’s time in his Senate.)

But now with Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress and Joe Biden in the White House, “Infrastructure Week” may be on the cusp of reclaiming its meaning:

The taste of success still fresh on their lips after passing an historic $1.9trn Covid relief package on a strictly party-line vote in each chamber, the Democrats have chosen infrastructure as the new priority.

And you’ll never guess what the topline price tag is that’s been floating around town…

(It’s $2trn.)

Ms Pelosi has directed the Democratic chairs of the relevant House committees to reach out to their GOP colleagues to begin negotiating the components of a prospective bipartisan deal.

Here’s the speaker on ABC’s “This Week”: “This is about broadband. It’s about water systems. It’s about mass transit. It’s about good paying jobs all over the country. It’s also about schools and housing and the rest. Good paying jobs across the country.”

Expect those bipartisan conversations to devolve as Republicans repeatedly press Democrats on one point: How the hell are you going to pay for all this?

Mr Biden, Mr Schumer and Ms Pelosi know that to win over their party’s more deficit-wary moderate wing – Joe Manchin ain’t goin’ nowhere, folks – they’ll have to offset costs by raising revenue. And by revenue, they mean taxes.

“We’ll have to pay for some of it,” Ms Pelosi said on Thursday at her weekly press conference. “We’ll have to find ways to cover fees, et cetera. That’s all a discussion that has to take place now.”

Some of the ways Democrats are looking at paying for another $2trn bill are by rolling back the 2017 Republican tax cuts on the top income bracket.

If that’s the route they go, any bipartisan discussions will yield as much productivity as Friday afternoon Zoom meetings. But so far, they’ve clearly signaled they prioritize results over bipartisan process.

Infrastructure Week is back. And it could be for real this time.

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