- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Democratic leaders secured a tentative agreement from President Trump on Tuesday to spend $2 trillion to rebuild the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, then vowed to keep trying to wreck Mr. Trump’s presidency.

Emerging from a rare meeting with the president at the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said their talks were productive, in contrast with their stormy session together in January, when the president walked out over funding for the border wall to resolve a partial government shutdown.

“There was goodwill in this meeting, and that was different than some of the other meetings that we’ve had,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat.

But the goodwill on infrastructure was apparently a one-way street. Democrats said they won’t back off six House committee investigations of the president and his business empire, and many continued to push for Mr. Trump’s impeachment for purported obstruction of justice against special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

That probe found the Trump campaign was not involved in Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.

“In previous meetings, the president has said, ‘If these investigations continue, I can’t work with you,’” Mr. Schumer said. “He didn’t bring it up [Tuesday]. I believe we can do both at once. The House and the Senate can proceed in its oversight responsibilities. The two are not mutually exclusive, and we were glad he didn’t make it that way.”

Mrs. Pelosi said of the investigations, which the president considers harassment, that “our priority is to honor our responsibilities under the Constitution of the United States.”

The speaker told Democratic lawmakers Monday night that Mr. Trump is “making the case” for obstruction by stonewalling their investigations. But she also warned Democrats that they need to “deliver” on their agenda, including a major jobs bill.

Although the Democrats and Mr. Trump agreed in principle to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, they didn’t agree on the crucial question of how to pay for it. They are scheduled to meet again in three weeks. Democrats said Tuesday that they put the burden on Mr. Trump to come up with ideas to raise the money.

Congressional Republicans have expressed opposition to such massive infrastructure spending. No Republicans were invited to the meeting, which Mrs. Pelosi requested.

The White House said the infrastructure initiative is consistent with Mr. Trump’s “America First” agenda.

“The United States has not come even close to properly investing in infrastructure for many years, foolishly prioritizing the interests of other countries over our own,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “We have to invest in this country’s future and bring our infrastructure to a level better than it has ever been before.”

But her statement didn’t commit to $2 trillion in funding. She said only that another meeting with the same lawmakers would examine “specific proposals and financing methods.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO this week called for raising the federal fuel tax, currently 18.4 cents per gallon on gas and 24.4 cents on diesel, to generate more revenue for the Highway Trust Fund. The Chamber of Commerce said increasing the federal fuel tax by 25 cents per gallon over five years would generate $394 billion in a decade.

That is less than one-fifth of the overall $2 trillion price tag. White House officials downplayed the suggestion that the president might agree to a tax increase to help pay for infrastructure.

“This president has lowered taxes,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters before the meeting. “This needs to be paid for, no question. There are many different ways to pay for it. I know that the Democrats want to raise your taxes.”

Mr. Schumer has suggested rolling back some of the 2017 corporate and individual tax cuts to help pay for infrastructure spending. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called that a nonstarter.

“This tax bill [of 2017] is what’s generated this robust economy,” Mr. McConnell said. “The last thing we want to do is step on all of this growth by stepping back and repealing, in effect, what has generated all of this prosperity and low unemployment.”

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, also sounded opposed to the price tag of $2 trillion.

“We’ve heard Speaker Pelosi and Schumer in the past talking about all kind of tax increases, and that’s not going to happen,” Mr. Scalise told reporters. “So we haven’t seen them come anywhere close to $2 trillion in moneys and other places that we can prioritize. So how you pay for it is going to be a driving force.”

In his proposed budget for fiscal 2020, Mr. Trump called for spending $200 billion on infrastructure. He said the plan would encourage another $1 trillion from states and private investment.

During the meeting with Democrats, Mr. Trump encouraged lawmakers to approve his renegotiated trade deal with Mexico and Canada, and discussed health care and immigration policy, lawmakers said.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, said the president suggested reviving legislation to amend Obamacare to fund cost-sharing subsidies for insurers, payments that the administration stopped in 2017.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said he and Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, worked with the president on the legislation for eight months but it “fell apart at the last minute because Democrats refused to vote for the traditional Hyde Amendment restricting federal funding for elective abortions.”

“I was extremely disappointed our legislation didn’t become law,” Mr. Alexander said. “If Democrats are willing to modify their position on the Hyde Amendment and renew their interest in Alexander-Murray, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss it.”

White House officials and congressional Republicans also say they want environmental deregulation included in an infrastructure package to speed up approval of permits for projects.

“Anything we do on it has to include reforms to the permitting process, because in many places, that jacks the cost up by more than three times what they originally asked, and it turns a two-year project into a 10-year project,” Mr. Scalise said.

Democrats are opposed to streamlining permitting. Mrs. Pelosi said an infrastructure package must promote “clean air, clean water.”

“It’s a public health issue,” she said. “It’s a quality of life issue, getting people out of their cars, not being on the road so much.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, said the discussion at the White House never got specific on payment options. He said the president even mentioned a bond issue at one point and that Mr. DeFazio suggested they all bring revenue-raising ideas to the next meeting “with no attribution.”

“It’s up to all of us to figure out how to pay for it,” he said. “No one wants to jump over the cliff first.”

• Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this report.

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