Brian Mark Weber / May 3, 2019

The Great Infrastructure Boondoggle of 2019

With a bipartisan $2 trillion plan to fix all the things, what could go wrong?

Bipartisanship has returned to the nation’s capital. And that’s bad news.

President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer emerged from a White House meeting Tuesday to announce a $2 trillion infrastructure package. The $2 trillion price tag is significantly more than the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, passed in 2015 during the Obama administration and which provides $305 billion over a five-year period ending in 2020.

So, now that they’ve thrown a dollar figure out there, we can expect crumbling bridges to be repaired, new super-highways to span the country from coast to coast, the electrical grid to be protected, and broadband to reach into every American home, right?

Not so fast. Trump, Pelosi, and Schumer have no idea how they’re going to come up with the $2 trillion. As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

The editors at National Review write, “We have been here before, with Barack Obama and his ‘shovel-ready’ projects. The lesson of Obama’s failed stimulus bill — which was in considerable part an infrastructure program — is that doing things backwards does not work. Appropriations first, projects second, is as backwards as it can be. That’s apparent in both the specific successes and general failure of the Obama stimulus.”

Apparently, President Trump is open to raising the federal gas tax to pay for the plan, something supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, many business leaders, and Democrats. But conservatives aren’t too keen on that idea. As White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said before the infrastructure powwow, “This president is the guy who lowers taxes.”

Republican voters may very well balk at a gas-tax increase. But here’s a compromise they might support: full funding for President Trump’s border wall in exchange for a fully funded infrastructure bill.

For now, the pressure is on both parties to act. A wide range of business and labor organizations are unified in seeking a major infrastructure bill. In April, representatives from the North American Concrete Alliance and the National Association of Clean Water Agencies met with lawmakers to discuss infrastructure issues.

“A compromise could offer political benefits to both sides,” the Associated Press reports. “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.”

In the end, don’t expect Democrats to offer much of anything. Whenever they hold the purse strings on Capitol Hill, all they push for is more taxes and more spending (not that Republicans have been fiscally conservative in recent years either).

Christian Britschgi writes at Reason, “Unlike the president’s proposal — which initially was focused mostly on transportation projects, included relatively modest amounts of new federal spending, and contained a number of privatization and deregulatory provisions — Democrats’ plans have called for lots of new federal spending on a wide range of priorities that often stretch the definition of infrastructure.”

Some of the projects Democrats want are better suited for state and local governments, such as schools and housing. They also want Trump to undo some of the 2017 tax cuts.

Were Republicans unified, they might be able to put up a fight. But there’s already division among GOP lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, both of whom want government spending to be supplemented by public-private partnerships.

President Trump was on board with this idea initially, as well as putting more of the onus on state and local governments, but Juliegrace Brufke writes in The Hill that Trump, during his meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, “reportedly referred to his administration’s previous infrastructure plan, which called for public-private partnerships, as ‘so stupid’ and argued that he was never supportive of the model because ‘you get sued.’”

Our nation has serious problems with its roads, bridges, and electrical grid. But this half-baked agreement has all the markings of another government boondoggle bankrolled by the American taxpayer — through more major debt.

Conservatives in Congress must pressure President Trump to get something substantive from Democrats right here and right now in exchange for all the infrastructure pork they’re going to take home to their districts.

Until that happens, watch out for those potholes.

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