By Diana Stancy Correll, Washington Examiner–
The Trump administration is expected to unveil an infrastructure package in the new year, after putting the issue on the sidelines amid other GOP priorities in 2017.
The White House is working to release a roughly 70-page infrastructure proposal sometime in January for members of Congress to use as a cornerstone for drafting the legislation in 2018.
In December, President Trump met with senior administration officials and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to discuss the proposal.
“The meeting with the president was encouraging and very productive,” Shuster said in a statement. “He’s a builder — he gets the importance of infrastructure and why it matters for jobs and the economy. Addressing our nation’s infrastructure in a bipartisan manner is going to take strong presidential leadership, and I believe we have a president who can provide the necessary leadership and who wants to rebuild our infrastructure to strengthen our economy.”
During the 2016 campaign, Trump first promised to deliver a $1 trillion infrastructure plan to improve the condition of U.S. roads, bridges, airports, and other public works.
Although the administration is working to address the nation’s infrastructure, several major question marks hang over the plan, such as funding.
“The cost is going to be an issue, that’s going to be a large topic of debate,” a senior committee aide told the Washington Examiner.
This spring, the administration called for using $200 billion in direct federal spending over the next 10 years. This was intended to spur $800 billion in spending by states, localities and private investors.
“I think the biggest sticking point will be funding, paying for the plan,” said Michael Sargent, transportation and infrastructure policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “Where does this $200 billion come from?”
Shuster is open to hearing solutions from Republicans and Democrats on how to build the best fiscally responsible plan, according to senior committee aides.
The other area in question is whether an infrastructure proposal could accumulate bipartisan support.
Frederick Hill, a spokesperson for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said infrastructure is typically a bipartisan issue because it affects everyone.
“The White House is going to have to try to compose a way to meet various needs,” he said.
Initially, Democrats appeared to back an infrastructure plan. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., expressed interest early on to work with the administration on an infrastructure package.
But now it’s less certain if Democrats will get on board, especially as members of Congress have engaged in partisan fights over issues such as healthcare and tax reform in 2017.
Experts also point to Democrats’ recent concerns that the GOP’s tax overhaul would increase the national deficit as a potential reason Democrats would be less inclined to get behind an expensive infrastructure plan.
“As we saw from this tax reform effort, now that the Democrats are opposing the Republicans in a lot of these policy battles, they now all of a sudden care about the deficit as well,” Sargent said. “They might voice that as a concern or use that as leverage to perhaps get things they want.”
Even so, the moderate Problem Solvers Caucus in the House is compiling a report to identify some bipartisan solutions that could be used in the package.
Additionally, Shuster does not expect a large infrastructure plan to progress without bipartisan support and wants to include Democrats, according to senior committee aides.
Another major piece of legislation that is expected to cause some debate in 2018 is the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, known as the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act.
Included in the measure, championed by Shuster, is a controversial provision that would remove air traffic control from the FAA and instead establish an independent nonprofit to oversee the function.
As the expiration of the FAA’s legal authority approached the end of September, the bill did not gain enough support, which led to a six-month extension that will expire in March.
The House committee emphasized that Shuster will continue working to push for air traffic control reform and that it remains another top priority for him.
“The chairman is just as committed today as he was earlier this year,” a senior committee aide said.