- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A massive infrastructure plan is hung up in Congress on age-old disputes over spending and environmental regulations, but President Trump is hitting the road this spring to drum up public support to force lawmakers to get onboard.

Mr. Trump’s plan seeks to overhaul the way infrastructure projects are funded and approved, providing new financing options to states and cutting red tape that drives up costs. But that challenged business as usual in Washington, and the proposal soon hit roadblocks in Congress.

“We can’t toll our way out of this problem,” Sen. Bill Nelson, the ranking member on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said at recent hearing on the proposal.

The Florida Democrat was ripping Mr. Trump’s plan to use public-private partnerships or P3s to finance some projects, one of several options to help state and local governments pick up more of the tab.

With financing options and other incentives, Mr. Trump wants $200 billion in federal spending to leverage a total investment of $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

“The president’s plan calls for $200 billion but has no clear way to pay for it,” said Mr. Nelson. “At the same time, the administration’s budget cuts critical infrastructure programs. We can’t cut our way to prosperity.”

He echoed criticism of the vast majority of Capitol Hill Democrats, who want $1 trillion of direct federal spending to rebuild American’s crumbing highways, bridges and airports.

Democrats balked at Mr. Trump’s plan to cut regulations, including environmental regulations, to streamline the Byzantine federal approval process.

The president promised it would speed up approvals — that now can take a decade — to two years.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington think tank, called the plan a “scam” that will be paid for by slashing social programs, shifting billions of dollars in costs to states and cities, and sidestepping public health and environmental protections.

The proposal also met stiff resistance from Democrats’ union allies.

“Devolving the federal government’s funding responsibility to cash-strapped states and municipalities will leave too many projects and jobs behind,” said Larry I. Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

Mr. Trump is undaunted, convinced that the appeal of rebuilding American infrastructure will be enough to attract rare bipartisan support in Congress.

“Even though there is skepticism out there that such a big piece of legislation can get done in such a short period of time, we are expecting movement and are encouraged by the progress that’s been made so far,” said a White House official. “With 11 committees of jurisdiction in both the House and Senate, the wide scope of the president’s infrastructure initiative means that the cadence will be different than with tax reform, but the process has been moving smoothly and as expected.”

The president will travel the country to rally support and put pressure on lawmakers. He will highlight desperately needed infrastructure across the country and visit places where state and local governments have taken innovative steps to finance construction, showing the types of projects he wants to enable, according to the White House.

Mr. Trump’s plan also targets rural infrastructure needs, including broadband internet service, that have long been overlooked by Washington.

The plan sets four goals:

•Stimulate $1.5 trillion of new investment in infrastructure.

•Shorten the permitting process to two years.

•Target invest in rural infrastructure such as broadband internet service with $50 billion in block grants to states.

•Improve workforce training, including expanding Pell Grant eligibility to students pursuing certification or credentials for in-demand fields.

Mr. Trump made a pitch for bipartisan support in the State of the Union address in January: “I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve. Together, we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.”

Only a handful of Democrats in the House chamber stood to applaud.

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