President Trump called for a big jump in infrastructure spending in last year’s State of the Union address, asking lawmakers “to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs.” But the ensuing White House proposal provided only $200 billion in federal spending over 10 years, with the goal of somehow enticing the rest of the money — more than $1 trillion — from private investors and state and local governments. The plan quickly died, due in large part to the lack of funding.
Now, Trump is again set to tout infrastructure as one area where he and Democrats can work together. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday that, “infrastructure is one of the easiest ones for us to look at. Everybody in this country knows that we have crumbling bridges and roads that need to be fixed. We also need to have a technology infrastructure that needs to get better. … We’re hopeful that we can come together and can get something done.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also highlighted infrastructure as a potentially fruitful issue, saying in a letter to House Democrats Monday that she hopes Trump’s address commits to “rebuilding America’s infrastructure.” Republican Rep. Sam Graves, the ranking member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, expressed similar sentiment, writing in an op-ed at The Hill that, “one thing is clear as the president prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight: improving America’s roads, bridges, airports, and other infrastructure remains at the top of his and Washington’s agenda.”
The big problem remains the same, too: While everyone agrees on the need for infrastructure investment, no one agrees on how to pay for it.
Previewing Tuesday’s State of the Union address, CNN’s Stephen Collinson called infrastructure “the classic program that everyone favors but never gets done” – largely because of a lack of agreement on how to pay for it.
“Everybody agrees we should have better roads and bridges,” Brigham McCown, chairman of the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure and a former adviser to the Trump administration’s Transportation Department, told Marketplace. “But when it comes down to who's going to pay for the bill, it's like everyone has shoved their hands in their pockets and looks around like they didn't hear the question."
The bottom line: There’s some hope for bipartisan cooperation on much-needed infrastructure investment, but Trump’s State of the Union isn’t likely to get lawmakers much closer to an agreement. The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus reports that while the president will address the need for better infrastructure, one key component will be missing: “a mechanism, such as a tax increase, to raise hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for the projects.”