Déjà vu: It's "Infrastructure Week" ... again

With tax reform accomplished and DACA on its way to a Senate debate, the White House has declared this to be “Infrastructure Week.” They held a meeting this morning with officials from around the country to launch one of Donald Trump’s key campaign promises — a master plan to rebuild and upgrade the nation’s core transportation facilities. The Trump administration will roll out a $1.5 trillion proposal, hoping to retain focus on the issue.

Unfortunately, they’ve tried this before, as NBC notes:

It’s Infrastructure Week — again — with President Trump hosting a meeting today at 11:00 am ET with state and local officials to discuss his administration’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal. And once again, it’s highly, highly unlikely we’ll be talking about infrastructure or the economy as the week goes on.

The first Infrastructure Week was announced for the first week of June. The only big news at that time was the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia-collusion probe. Trump gamely attempted to keep to the script, declaring that “it is time, at last, to put America first,” but had little success:

It’s time at last again for Infrastructure Week, and the White House wants to make it stick this time. But the method of raising the funds for this project may put Trump at odds with fiscal conservatives again:

The plan calls for investing $200 billion in federal money over the coming decade to entice other levels of government and the private sector to raise their spending on infrastructure by more than $1 trillion to hit the administration’s goal of $1.5 trillion in new funding over 10 years. It also seeks to dramatically reduce the time required to obtain environmental permits for such projects.

White House aides say Trump is open to a new source of funding to cover the federal share — such as raising the federal gas tax for the first time since 1993 — but Congress will have to make such decisions. …

In a statement Sunday, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said legislation “needs to be bipartisan, fiscally responsible and make real long-term investments in our nation.”

He has repeatedly called for a sustainable source of funding. At the recent GOP retreat in West Virginia, he floated the idea of raising the gas tax. It’s “the elephant in the room,” Shuster said.

To be fair, Trump never ran as a fiscal conservative, nor as a deficit hawk. To the extent that he discussed deficits and national debt at all, he’d pay some lip service to the dangers of both but also insisted that he wasn’t afraid of debt. His campaign’s theme — “Make America Great Again” — relied explicitly on rebuilding infrastructure with American labor and American products.

Still, one has to wonder just how the GOP will sell a tax increase that would immediately hit the gains made from the previous tax cuts. The proposal floating around Washington — from the Chamber of Commerce, no less — would more than double the current federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon by adding 25 cents more. That would raise $375 billion over the next ten years, but it would do so by draining it out of motorists’ pockets at the pumps and add to the price of groceries and other goods that get delivered by trucks … which would be just about everything people buy in stores or online.

The full White House proposal can be read at The Hill, but don’t spend too much time memorizing the details. Congress will rewrite most of it, especially the idea that private enterprise will pick up 80% of the costs of infrastructure renovation. There may be other funding sources for infrastructure coming, but we’ll tackle that in a later post.