Over the past three-plus years, there has been nothing so regular in Washington DC and nothing as essentially meaningless as Infrastructure Week. It has become the political equivalent of Lucy teeing up the football for a perpetually hapless Charlie Brown. For the past five years, ever since he got into the GOP presidential primary, Donald Trump keeps pushing the idea of a massive infrastructure spending bill — and every time, it sinks to the bottom of the political priority list.
One has to admire persistence, even if — or perhaps especially when — it comes in pursuit of the unattainable. And maybe one has to admire the optimism that this time Charlie Brown will actually kick the football, as evinced by CNBC’s stock tips:
Infrastructure stocks are surging.
The group took off Tuesday after Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration was considering a $1 trillion infrastructure plan meant to boost the U.S. economy. …
No official announcements have been made on the plan, but “at some point, infrastructure has to get done,” Federated Hermes strategist Steve Chiavarone told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Tuesday.
“It just makes too much sense,” he said, adding that it’s “almost impossible to tell” whether a plan will come to fruition before or after the November election.
Jim Cramer at least put this in its proper perspective, as “fantasy” politics:
Great analysis, and all that data is worth keeping in mind. But yeah, this ain’t happening:
President Trump’s election-year push for a $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill to boost the struggling economy faces strong opposition from Senate Republicans.
GOP senators are warning that Trump’s expected proposal is too “rich” and would be a “heavy lift” in Congress, especially considering significant policy differences between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
House Democratic leaders have vowed to approve a surface transportation bill with a price tag around $500 billion over five years by the end of this month, which could put pressure on the GOP-led Senate. The House Transportation Committee is scheduled to start marking up that bill Wednesday.
McConnell has repeatedly warned about the impact of the surging federal deficit on future generations and has put the brakes on passing another expensive coronavirus relief bill. McConnell’s more pressing priority, say GOP senators, is to move a five-year reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund estimated to cost $287 billion, well below the $1 trillion plan Trump is currently considering.
Even if there had been no COVID-19 crisis and shutdown, and therefore the need for trillions in immediate stimulus, this still would have gone nowhere. Conservatives simply weren’t sold on the need to go another trillion or two deeper in debt for a new series of public-works projects a decade after Barack Obama’s stimulus package in the Great Recession. In fact, that demonstrated to conservatives just how useless massive infrastructure spending for the sake of spending can be:
“If the president wants a stimulus for the economy now, there’s no way an infrastructure bill would provide any until at least the middle of 2021,” Stephen Moore, co-founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, told reporters Tuesday.
Moore, a Trump ally and outside economic adviser, pointed to the so-called “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects of the 2009 stimulus bill as an example of what not to do.
“The evidence showed very clearly that the projects weren’t shovel ready and they had almost a negligible impact on economic growth because it took so long to get those projects going,” he said.
Former South Carolina GOP Sen. Jim DeMint of the Conservative Partnership also urged Trump not to go there.
“I don’t think you can get a clean infrastructure bill through Congress without getting more things tacked on, including various types of union ballots,” he warned. “I’ve seen through infrastructure projects in the past that these things can take years to gear up and most of those are going to have to go through the states, money which can be picked off for backfilling pensions and all of that.”
Of course, we now have a sharper economic crisis than the Great Recession, even if it’s likely to be much shorter lived. Congress has already spent trillions of dollars to offset the short-term damage of the shutdowns, and conservatives have begun to balk at another “Phase IV” package of short-term stimulus spending programs. There is no room at all for years-long public-works projects while the need to rescue small businesses from this government intervention remains acute.
It doesn’t cost much to stage Infrastructure Weeks, however, and Trump can still use them to woo blue-collar moderates. There won’t be any appetite for this kind of pork-platform spending for a long time to come, however, perhaps not even among that target audience. It’s a dead letter in the Senate regardless.