President Trump donated $100,000—his fourth-quarter salary from last year—to the Transportation Department this week to help boost infrastructure renovation.
But Republican leaders on Capitol Hill aren’t rejoicing, choosing instead to send a less-than-subtle message to the White House: That’s not going to cut it.
The blowback comes after the White House released its infrastructure proposal, one of the most heavily anticipated policy initiatives from the Trump administration to date. The White House proposed $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years, all drawn from savings rather than new revenue.
“The fact that we’re this far into the [infrastructure process] without a revenue stream is troublesome,” Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, told National Journal.
Funding is only one of a laundry list of Republican complaints about the proposal. Blunt said lawmakers can’t craft legislation without more details from the White House. Sen. John Cornyn, the top deputy to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said he plans to move ahead at the outset with piecemeal bills, rather than a package. But federal money appears to be the lowest-hanging fruit for critics.
“The president put a proposal out there, but obviously the biggest question is how do you pay for it,” Cornyn told National Journal. “The money’s got to come from somewhere.”
The White House has a simple answer to that dilemma: Lawmakers need to follow through on administration calls to pare down spending.
“The way it’s currently envisioned is that we would pay for the $200 billion out of savings from other areas of the federal budget,” a senior administration official told reporters on a recent conference call. “There are some reductions in things like transit funding and TIGER grants, and things where the administration thinks that infrastructure funds haven’t been spent efficaciously. And so, therefore, we want to do it in a better, more focused way.”
Trump’s budget for fiscal 2019, unveiled in tandem with his infrastructure proposal, would zero out the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program launched through the Obama-era stimulus package. It would also slash Transportation Department funding by roughly one-fifth over current levels, including a cut of more than $120 billion in federal aid to the insolvent Highway Trust Fund.
“At the end of the day, the big failure [of the infrastructure plan] is it doesn’t really address the shortcomings in the transportation fund,” said Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican appropriator. “Sooner or later, you’re going to have to find some additional source of revenue. Probably not a lot of appetite for that this year, in an election year.”
Congress has repeatedly rejected draconian Trump administration budget cuts in appropriations bills for fiscal 2018 as lawmakers struggle to cobble together an omnibus funding package by next month. Many Republican leaders are owning up to the difficulty in shaving off large swathes of spending.
The $200 billion in federal funding drawn from savings would require a $20 billion annual reduction in spending.
“Obviously it’d be hard,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt, who sits on the Appropriations Committee. “I know there’s enough waste in a lot of different categories that you could probably find a lot. Will you find $20 billion? I don’t know.”
For Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the appropriator with jurisdiction over the Transportation Department, the proposal calls to mind the 2013 debate over transportation funding, when the appropriations bill was pulled from the floor after bipartisan objections to deep spending cuts kept it from getting enough votes to pass.
“There are things that have very strong support,” Diaz-Balart said. “You’ve got to get the votes.”
Still, for conservatives, the debt-busting budget just signed by Trump makes it harder to justify spending even more money on an infrastructure plan.
“The House and the Senate last week made it that much more difficult to move that process along,” said Rep. Scott Perry, a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “We only have so much money to spend.”
Trump is hoping to leverage that $200 billion to encourage $1.5 trillion in total funding—the remainder coming from state and local government and private companies.
Meanwhile, internal Trump administration discord is emerging in the debate over savings versus new revenue. According to a Wednesday report by Axios, Trump is willing to get behind a 25-cent increase in the gas tax, a virtual nonstarter for many Republicans on Capitol Hill, to fund infrastructure.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao telegraphed that seemingly contradictory position at a White House press conference Tuesday.
“The president has not declared anything out of bounds, so everything is on the table. The gas tax, like many of the other pay-fors that are being discussed, is not ideal. There are pros and cons,” Chao said.
Regardless of the lack of cohesion on the funding front, some lawmakers are now saying an infrastructure package may not be worthwhile in an election year likely to be pockmarked with controversy and partisanship.
“I think maybe the Democrats want the infrastructure more than we do,” said GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant. “The need to have the infrastructure is going to have to be great enough to push the desire to find the pay-fors. And I’m not really sure we’re there yet.”
What We're Following See More »
"Special counsel Robert Mueller's interest in Jared Kushner has expanded beyond his contacts with Russia and now includes his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the inquiry. This is the first indication that Mueller is exploring Kushner's discussions with potential non-Russian foreign investors, including in China." At issue specifically is his quest for financing help on the beleaguered 666 Fifth Avenue building.
The indictment, filed in the District of Columbia, alleges that the interference began "in or around 2014," when the defendants began tracking and studying U.S. social media sites. They "created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts" and "purchased computer servers located inside the United States" to mask their identities, some of which were stolen. The interference was coordinated by election interference "specialists," and focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, immigration, and other divisive issues. "By early to mid-2016" the groups began supporting the campaign of "then-candidate Donald Trump," including by communicating with "unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign..."
"Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's office, indicating he's poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case. Gates has already spoken to Mueller's team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He's had what criminal lawyers call a 'Queen for a Day' interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors' team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed."
"The Senate on Thursday rejected immigration legislation crafted by centrists in both parties after President Trump threatened to veto the bill if it made it to his desk. In a 54-45 vote, the Senate failed to advance the legislation from eight Republican, seven Democratic and one Independent senators. It needed 60 votes to overcome a procedural hurdle. "