Senate Republicans are pushing back against the Trump administration’s still-developing plans for a $1 trillion infrastructure package designed to boost the coronavirus-ravaged economy — and the president’s reelection chances.
A draft of the plan is being prepared by the Department of Transportation, Bloomberg reported, and it focuses on typical infrastructure projects such as road and bridge construction over a 10-year period, though it also includes money for rural broadband and updated wireless infrastructure.
Conservative lawmakers are already saying the plan will be a tough sell for the administration, at least in the Senate. “I think that’s a very heavy lift,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who sits on the Finance Committee, told The Hill.
The big problem. The objection to the plan is simple: it’s expensive, and the federal government is already spending trillions of deficit-funded dollars to address the coronavirus. “Nothing we’re doing right now is fiscally responsible,” said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY). “I’m much more inclined to stick to solving the virus problem.”
In April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rejected the idea of including infrastructure projects in the coronavirus relief bills then under discussion. “Infrastructure is unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic that we’re all experiencing and trying to figure out how to go forward,” he said at the time.
McConnell is reportedly more focused on the five-year reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund, a Senate version of which is expected to cost $287 billion — a far smaller sum than the Trump infrastructure plan, but a problem nevertheless in an increasingly deficit-focused upper chamber. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said he is still looking for ways to pay for $93 billion of the highway bill.
Room to maneuver? Still, there are some Republicans who are open to an infrastructure package. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said she would like to work with the House, which is currently marking up a $500 billion package focused on surface transportation, to pass a bill that also addresses water infrastructure and new energy technologies. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) has also said he is interested in a major infrastructure bill, though he has not discussed any details with the administration.
Democrats, however, may be wary of working with a White House that has repeatedly talked up infrastructure spending but done little to see a plan through. As one Democrat told the Financial Times, “Infrastructure has been like Lucy pulling away the football from Charlie Brown. Every single time he thinks ‘this time it’s real.’”