On Wednesday, the president instructed a broad White House task force to turn his infrastructure ambitions into a concrete plan. Trump stipulated that the plan should prioritize renovation of existing roads over new construction, expedite local permitting, and favor projects that states can break ground on in less than 90 days.
“We’re not going to give the money to states unless they can prove that they can be ready, willing, and able to start the project,” Trump said at a private meeting with advisers and executives that The Wall Street Journal sat in on. “We don’t want to give them money if they’re all tied up for seven years with state bureaucracy.”
Congressional Republicans have evinced little interest in Trump’s bid to create jobs through new government spending. Many seem to have hoped that the president’s plan — which he has likened to the New Deal — would fall by the wayside after his election, along with the mogul’s other liberal campaign proposals on drug prices and increasing taxes on hedge-fund managers.
The Trump administration gave fiscal conservatives some cause for comfort in late November, when it released an initial infrastructure plan composed entirely of tax breaks to private developers.
But the plan that the president outlined this week couldn’t possibly be funded wholly by private capital. Renovating existing roads is unlikely to attract much private investment, unless the administration plans to radically increase the number of toll booths in the United States. And several of Trump’s other reported ambitions — including building high-speed railroads and expanding broadband access — are likely to require public funding.
The president also expressed interest Wednesday in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop — a mode of public transport that would fire pods of passengers at airline speed through low-pressure tubes. Which sounds cool and terrifying, but also expensive.
At present, the White House’s only idea for generating requisite revenue for its plan is to let American corporations repatriate their overseas earnings at a discount rate, a move that it expects would put $200 billion in Uncle Sam’s coffers.
Compounding the funding problem, the GOP’s health-care plan amounts to a $600 billion tax cut on the wealthiest people in America. And even if that fails to pass, the next item on the Republican agenda is a large tax cut for rich people and corporations (they say those cuts will be revenue neutral but they almost certainly won’t be).
And then, the president also wants to increase the defense budget by $54 billion, build a $21 billion border wall, and drastically increase annual spending on immigration enforcement. Leaked budget documents suggest the White House wants to fund those expenditures with massive cuts, to the Coast Guard and public housing, which are likely to meet significant opposition in Congress.
Still, Trump’s infrastructure plan may be the most (the only?) broadly popular item on his agenda. And it’s one that the former real-estate developer seems personally invested in — and that his chief strategist believes is key to building a majority coalition for right-wing nationalism.