Ah, an agreement to make an agreement. Ask the nearest lawyer how solid those are.
I assume this announcement amounts to PR by both sides. Both benefit from signaling seriousness of purpose about infrastructure to voters, after all, and since there’s no longer anything resembling a movement of fiscal conservatives on the right, no one will make trouble for Trump for supporting a spending package involving trillions of dollars. Certainly it’s nothing more than PR as far as Democrats are concerned, as they’re not about to hand him a major win before the election. Especially not when every dollar spent now on a Trump infrastructure plan is a dollar that won’t be available to spend on a Biden or Sanders infrastructure plan in 2021.
The $2 trillion figure was probably cooked up for PR reasons too:
You could repeal TCJA in its entirety and still be way off the $2T bogey. That's bonkers, and sets the bar unfairly high for whatever it is they could actually pull off.
— Liam Donovan (@LPDonovan) April 30, 2019
“TCJA” is the Trump tax cuts; Donovan’s thinking ahead to how Democrats might want to fund this project and the most obvious route is to, ah, ask Trump to repeal his single biggest legislative accomplishment to date. Anyway, I think the point of setting the bar so ridiculously high is to give both sides cover to argue later, in the very unlikely event that they do hammer out a bill, that the final number is far more “modest” than the original figure they cited. “In the end we agreed to an infrastructure bill that “only” cost $1 trillion. Even deficit hawks should be happy with our restraint!” As if deficit hawks still exist:
My God. Ultimate fiscal hawk Mick Mulvaney says our $22 trillion debt “does not appear to be holding us back.” Hearing him say that just blows my mind.
— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) April 30, 2019
One more reason to believe today’s news is just PR is that Democrats long ago learned what U.S. partners abroad have come to understand, which is that Trump changes his mind. A lot. He can sound perfectly accommodating to them on a subject as dicey as immigration one minute and then, after huddling with Stephen Miller, turn around and decide that he wants major concessions for a DREAM amnesty the next. They could sit down with him three weeks from now and get him to agree to some tax hikes to fund the infrastructure bill and then have him deny he ever said any such thing if/when he received flak for it from his base. (Which, again, he probably wouldn’t in this case.) I think they made a point of sounding sanguine in the two clips below precisely because they know this is going nowhere and want to prime the public to blame Trump when it doesn’t. “We thought we had an agreement in broad principle,” Schumer will say next month, “but the president pulled the rug out from under us again…”
As for Trump, he also benefits from being seen as proactive on infrastructure even if he doesn’t really intend to make a deal. And I’m sure he sees this as prospective leverage over House Dems for when their investigations of him begin to turn serious. Schumer notes below that Trump never mentioned those investigations or the court battle over Democratic subpoenas during their meeting today, but he must be thinking about it. He’ll try to keep them off his back by stringing them along for awhile with promises about infrastructure; they wouldn’t want to antagonize him when there’s $2 trillion in new spending on the table, would they? I think he misunderstands them, though, in that case: Again, this is a political ploy by Schumer and Pelosi, not a serious policy overture. If he forces them to choose between infrastructure and Subpoenapalooza, they’ll happily take the latter and then blame him for spoiling the infrastructure negotiations. (“He’s punishing the American people to protect himself from impeachment!”) If it all works out for them, they’ll have President Biden in 2021 and then they can spend $5 trillion or some other Monopoly-money sum on infrastructure instead.
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 30, 2019
Reporter: What is a bigger priority for Democrats? Investigating the president or trying to work with him?
Schumer: I believe we can do both at once pic.twitter.com/rtkDd9AAA1
— POLITICO (@politico) April 30, 2019