- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It looks as though President-Elect Donald Trump is serious about delivering on his campaign promise for increased infrastructure spending.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump pledged to spend $1 trillion over the next 10 years to repair and build the nation’s roads, bridges and other projects – more money than Hillary Clinton had planned.

The proposal is at odds with many Republicans, who fought President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” agenda includes no spending on the nation’s pipelines and airports, and the Speaker’s office has noted Congress passed a $305 billion, five-year infrastructure bill late last year.

But, Mr. Trump is a master negotiator – and it looks like he’s setting up his administration so he’s able to twist some arms to get his domestic spending agenda done.

First, Mr. Trump is setting the stage to deliver on something establishment Republicans want the most – tax cuts. Any tax bill will be able to pass the Senate with a simple majority, and Mr. Trump may be able to get some Democratic buy-in if he can trade-off those votes with some compromise on infrastructure spending – something Democrats have also pushed for.

In addition, Mr. Trump has revised his tax plan to look more like Mr. Ryan’s proposal, making the chances for tax cuts in the coming year a high likelihood.

Regarding tax cuts, Mr. Ryan told Wisconsin radio show WCLO on Tuesday: “We’re going to die trying, and it’s going to be a whale of a fight.”

And Mr. Trump will happily help – all the while angling for his infrastructure spending, which he even admitted to the New York Times last week is “not a very Republican thing.”

Now, enter his reported Transportation Secretary pick Elaine Chao.

Mrs. Chao is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and will lead Mr. Trump’s mission to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. The pick gives Mr. Trump leverage over Mr. McConnell to perhaps pass an infrastructure bill that Senate Republicans may otherwise be uncomfortable with.

As any businessman knows, leverage is always a good in getting what you want.

In addition, Mrs. Chao is a solid pick, with a strong resume. She served under George W. Bush as his Labor Secretary, and under George H.W. Bush as the deputy secretary of transportation – so she knows the landscape and can hit the ground running.

In terms of potential conflicts-of-interest, Mrs. Chao won’t be the first Cabinet member who will serve as a Transportation Secretary while having a husband in Congress – Elizabeth Dole served in the position from 1983 to 1987 while her husband, Bob Dole, was majority leader.

Mr. Trump’s infrastructure plan favors tax incentives rather than government spending, like Mr. Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan to pay for it, in a nod to Republicans.

Mr. Trump estimates his $1 trillion price tag can be paid for by private investors who will be enticed to build with a tax credit equal to 82 percent of their investment.

Mr. Trump’s proposal also promises to streamline the government bureaucracy associated with the builds, issuing permits and build approvals at a faster rate than previous administrations.

Still, it’s going to be a hard sell on Capitol Hill – the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page on Tuesdayalready derided it for not being able to deliver as many jobs or GDP growth as promised, and as a potential for government waste.

But it looks as though Mr. Trump is doubling down on this campaign promise – and I wouldn’t bet against his ability to get it delivered.

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