Chuck Schumer is torpedoing the infrastructure plan before it's even announced

A new year and a new chance for progress. That’s the hope of at least some people observing the gridlock in the United States Senate these days, where rounding up a single Democratic vote for anything the President has supported is akin to discovering dark matter. But perhaps that’s about to change. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D – NY) has penned an op-ed for the Washington Post on the day of the State of the Union address. He’d like you to know that he’s ready to listen, and unlike many of his Democratic colleagues, he won’t be skipping the event. In fact, he’s excited by the prospect of the President proposing some initiatives where the two parties might work together, particularly in the area of infrastructure. Of course, there will be a few conditions…

The president promised a trillion-dollar investment in our infrastructure on the campaign trail. But since he took the oath of office, Congress hasn’t heard much about his plan, and what we have heard isn’t promising. The president’s budget proposal slashed infrastructure investments, and, more recently, the proposals we’ve seen from the administration rely on private companies or states and localities to put up the lion’s share of the money. In turn, those entities would have to either charge local taxpayers new tolls or raise taxes and other fees to pay for the infrastructure…

So Democrats will watch the State of the Union hoping that President Trump will change course — by emphasizing the need for a major, direct federal investment in infrastructure…

That’s why the president faces a choice: The hard right doesn’t want him to expend federal resources, but to effectively rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, he must.

On Tuesday, if President Trump chooses a real, direct, federal investment in infrastructure, he will have a chance to pass an effective, bipartisan bill. We Democrats will gladly work with him on it. But if he caves to the hard right once again and proposes a scheme driven by private developers — a scheme that leaves out rural America and asks middle-class families to shoulder the costs — he’ll have squandered an immense opportunity.

If any of that sounds familiar to regular readers it’s because it matches, nearly word for word, the course of action I described as what not to do in an infrastructure bill only yesterday. Schumer is right about one thing… there absolutely is an opportunity here. We could use some serious work on the interstate highway system and the power grid, and both parties can agree on that. Unfortunately, there are two schools of thought as to how we pay for it.

If the Democrats were in charge we’d see another “stimulus” bill such as the one passed in the early days of the Obama administration. Pretty much all the funding would come from the federal purse and be poured down rabbit holes in the individual states who would feel zero accountability for how wisely it was spent. (Didn’t your dad ever tell you that if you saved up your own money to buy a car you’d take better care of it than if he just gave you one? Or was that just in my family?) That stimulus package was, by and large, a failure.

But by doing precisely the sort of thing that Schumer arguing against, the government might actually achieve something useful and merit praise from the entire country, not just the respective base of one party or the other. Washington should be setting up the parameters for how it’s done and injecting carefully measured amounts of funding into areas with the fewest resources. But otherwise, the feds should get out of the way and allow the states to partner with private interests as well as raising their own money. Then the voters in each state will be far more likely to hold them accountable for results. Private sector job growth could be fostered. And yes, Senator Schumer, we might have to pay tolls on a few more roads than before. Is that really so much to ask for such a sweeping accomplishment?

Apparently it is. Chuck Schumer will be “listening” tonight, but it sounds like he’s ready to block any path forward if it doesn’t come with a massive price tag for the federal treasury. Hopefully, there are at least a couple of dozen Democrats with clearer vision who will be willing to refuse his marching orders.