- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2019

One of the last times President Trump met face-to-face with Chuck and Nancy, as he calls the Democratic leaders of the Senate and House, it didn’t go swimmingly.

The president asked for a border wall; they refused. He said Nancy was reluctant to negotiate on camera; she bristled on camera. He said he would proudly shut down the government over the wall, and he did.

Nancy — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — later said the December meeting with the president was like “a tinkle contest with a skunk.”

Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer will return to the White House on Tuesday with several other top Democrats to discuss a costly infrastructure package with Mr. Trump, perhaps the best hope for a big, bipartisan jobs bill this year.

On Monday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO announced a rare business-labor coalition in support of raising the federal gas tax to help pay for infrastructure spending. The move could give the initiative bipartisan momentum in Congress not seen since 2013, when business and labor joined forces in an ultimately unsuccessful push for immigration reform.

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer will arrive at the White House with a “big and bold” list of liberal demands on higher spending and climate change regulations, but partisan hostility in Washington has only increased since the partial government shutdown ended in January and special counsel Robert Mueller released a report this month on his Russia investigation that turned up no campaign collusion.

SEE ALSO: Trump to demand more money for border

Democrats on several House committees now waging investigations into the president and his business empire are issuing subpoenas for officials’ testimony and seeking his tax returns. Mr. Trump is vowing to fight them on every single issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

The border crisis has only worsened, with more than 420,000 illegal crossings of the southern border so far this fiscal year. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the increasing pace of illegal immigration should convince Democrats how wrong they were in December about the wall.

“Now the members of the Democrat Party hopefully are seeing exactly what the president’s been talking about and will have a new willingness to help us address it,” she told reporters.

But the immediate issue is fixing roads and bridges, a big-ticket item of as much as $2 trillion that has eluded an agreement for the first two years of Mr. Trump’s presidency. Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer said Democrats want to expand the infrastructure spending wish list.

“To truly be a gamechanger for the American people, we should go beyond transportation and into broadband, water, energy, schools, housing and other initiatives,” they wrote. “We must also invest in resiliency and risk mitigation of our current infrastructure to deal with climate change.”

They also asked the president how he would pay for such a plan. Mr. Trump has proposed $200 billion in his fiscal 2020 budget for infrastructure, saying it would encourage more private investment of up to $1 trillion to cover the nation’s needs.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO joined forces Monday in calling for an increase in the federal gas tax to help pay for infrastructure rebuilding. The tax, 18.4 cents per gallon on gas and 24.4 cents on diesel, was last raised in 1993.

The Chamber said hiking the federal fuel tax by 25 cents per gallon over five years would generate $394 billion in a decade.

But Mr. Schumer reportedly won’t support raising the gas tax unless Mr. Trump repeals part of the 2017 tax cuts that gave the biggest relief to corporations.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Neil Bradley said trying to “religitate other fights … isn’t going to help us get to a solution.”

“This is a historic opportunity if we can just resolve the financing option,” Mr. Bradley said. “Everyone just needs to have the political courage to come out and do it. We have to provide real money and not gimmicks.”

Mr. Trump has considered a major infrastructure package since the earliest days of his presidency but faces some opposition in the Republican Party because of growing deficits. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the president will not bring a proposal for an infrastructure bill to Tuesday’s meeting.

“We’re going slowly on this,” Mr. Kudlow said. “We would like this to be bipartisan. We would like to work with them and come up with something both sides can agree to. It’s an important topic.”

In their letter, Mr. Schumer and Mrs. Pelosi said an infrastructure spending bill must prioritize clean energy and climate change. The two areas are likely nonstarters for Mr. Trump, who has prided himself on boosting U.S. production of fossil fuels and has mocked Hillary Clinton’s reliance on windmill-generated power.

“America’s unmet infrastructure needs are massive, and a bipartisan infrastructure package must meet those needs with substantial, new and real revenue,” the Democrats wrote to the president. “We look forward to hearing your ideas on how to pay for this package to ensure that it is big and bold enough to meet our country’s needs.”

Democrats reintroduced a House resolution Monday saying that most of the money for infrastructure should come from the government instead of private revenue, and urging lawmakers not to repeal environmental protections. It pointed out that the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates there is a $2 trillion shortfall to modernize the nation’s infrastructure over the next decade.

But the measure doesn’t spell out how to pay for a rebuilding plan.

National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons said U.S. spending on infrastructure is only one-third of what it was in 1960. He said any serious legislation “must fix the Highway Trust Fund — through various user fees — and be transformational in its scope so that manufacturers and the country are positioned for future success.”

“That’s why manufacturers are calling for at least $1 trillion in much needed new investment,” Mr. Timmons said. “Millions of jobs and our nation’s competitiveness are at stake, and it is time for our elected leaders to act.”

Tom Trotter, an official with the AFL-CIO, said a recent study found that urban U.S. commuters waste 97 hours per year stuck in traffic and burn about 3.1 billion gallons of fuel while idling.

“Nobody likes raising gas taxes,” Mr. Trotter said. “We want to get something done.”

Mr. Trump supports streamlining the permitting process for construction projects, saying government too often uses lengthy permitting to stall and kill proposals. The Business Roundtable said in a statement Monday that any infrastructure package shouldn’t increase red tape.

“Policymakers should focus on shoring up public trust funds, unlocking and incentivizing private investment, and streamlining permitting processes for infrastructure project approvals,” the business group said. “A solution for infrastructure should enhance, not weaken, policies that have contributed to strong, sustained economic growth.”

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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