Speaking at “CEO town hall” event Tuesday, President Trump said his infrastructure revitalization plan would cost a trillion dollars or possibly a bit more.
“We have to build roads. We have to build highways. We’re talking about a very major infrastructure bill of a trillion dollars, perhaps even more,” Trump said. The president made the comments in the context of talking about efforts to reduce the long delays in construction imposed by federal regulations. He said it could take 10-20 years to get a road permitted and his administration hoped to bring that down to a year.
Trump was also critical of infrastructure spending by the previous administration. “You know, there was a very large infrastructure bill that was approved during the Obama administration, a trillion dollars,” Trump said. He continued, “Nobody ever saw anything being built. To this day I haven’t heard of anything that’s been built. The used most of that money…on social programs.”
“We don’t want to send a billion dollars to New York and find out five years later the money was never spent,” Trump said. “We’re going to be very strong that it has to be spent on shovels,” Trump continued, adding, “Not on other programs.” Trump said programs receiving funds would have to be ready to start within 90 days.
Both the Associated Press and Politifact have already issued fact checks on Trump’s statement about Obama’s stimulus bill. Both outlets note President Obama’s bill was not intended to be focused primarily on infrastructure. Politifact, relying on a book about the spending bill, says only about $80 billion of the overall $800 billion was spent on infrastructure, and of that amount only a fraction was spent on roads and bridges:
Michael Grabell, a journalist with the investigative project ProPublica, wrote a book, Money Well Spent? The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History. In his book, Grabell estimated that only about $80 billion, or roughly one-tenth of the act’s spending, was devoted to what people would normally think of as “infrastructure,” and of that, only about $27 billion was spent specifically on roads and bridges.
So roads and bridges accounted for just over 3 percent of all spending under the act.
Naturally, this being Poltifact, they conclude Trump’s statement is “mostly false,” but Trump is right that very little of Obama’s bill went to the kind of infrastructure Trump is talking about. But putting the question of how the bills differ, it’s worth noting that President Trump hasn’t specified how any of this would be paid for. So maybe his plan is better than Obama’s plan in terms of how the money will get spent, but so far it’s not better in terms of spending a huge amount of money we don’t have. Given that the federal debt is nearing $20 trillion, that seems like a reasonable concern.