Well, something had to give. Simultaneously proposing a defense spending buildup, a huge tax cut, a potentially expensive Obamacare replacement, and a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, while reducing the deficit and leaving the big retirement entitlements more or less alone, was never going to be possible, even in the land of alternative facts and rosy economic scenarios that square many circles. And so, according to a report from Axios, the Trump infrastructure plan is being quietly put on hold until next year.
It’s being spun in advance as a matter of logistics, not money:
The plan: Push off until next year any consideration of the massive infrastructure plan Trump wants to push for roads, airports and other big projects, giving Republican lawmakers more breathing room amid a crowd of issues that’ll require massive effort, time and political capital.
Yeah, I’m sure Congress just couldn’t find the time to spend a trillion smackers on projects in their own states and districts.
Truth is, nothing like a real infrastructure investment plan has yet been developed by the administration, and big fights with congressional Republicans could still emerge on issues ranging from use of tax credits rather than direct spending on public programs, Buy America provisions that would boost the cost of materials, and of course, where and when the dollars would flow. It has often been conjectured that this is one area where Trump could get cooperation from congressional Democrats (the Axios report suggests a belief that waiting until the midterm election year of 2018 will increase pressure on Democrats to go along). But cutting the opposition party in on the deal will make designing a package that much harder, as became clear when Senate Democrats released their own plan last month:
The Senate Democratic infrastructure proposal would boost several programs that Republicans have opposed in recent years, creating new tax benefits for clean energy and expanding grants that originated in former President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan. Democrats also want to spend $10 billion on an infrastructure bank, an idea Hillary Clinton campaigned on that had no traction with GOP leaders during the Obama years.
So there’s really no bipartisan consensus on infrastructure, and given inevitable conservative resistance to spending a lot more money on any domestic priority, it would take a lot of loud lobbying from the administration to move this up the priority list for Trump’s first term.
Perhaps we will hear that in Trump’s speech to Congress next week, but it would be wise to pay attention to what the president does and does not say about timing. He will not come right out and say the ’dozers and cranes won’t get cranking until mañana. But until the administration gets its own act together and develops something like a credible budget and a feasible agenda, it’s hard to imagine this element of Making America Great Again becoming more than a rhetorical gesture.