Donald Trump keeps talking about how he wants to rebuild America's roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. Now Senate Democrats are signaling that they'd be happy to work with him on this — but they have very different ideas on how to go about it.
On Tuesday, Democrats led by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will unveil a proposal to spend $1 trillion over the next 10 years to repair old bridges and roads, expand bus and rail systems, and modernize ports, highways, airports, schools, grids, and much, much more. Unlike Trump's plan, this would be accomplished through direct federal spending. The exact funding mechanisms are still unspecified (in recent years, Democrats have rallied around corporate tax reform to pay for infrastructure).
Trump's own infrastructure plan is very different — during the campaign, he unveiled a proposal to offer some $137 billion in tax breaks to private investors who want to finance toll roads, toll bridges, or other projects that generate their own revenue streams. Experts across the political spectrum argued that this plan was fairly narrow, mainly focused on projects with a large private finance component that can pay for themselves. Right now, very few roads in America meet that criteria.
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"[Trump's plan] is unlikely to do much for road and bridge maintenance," Harvard economist Edward Glaeser said when I interviewed him about the proposal last November. "And [economists] have long believed that the highest returns are for fixing existing infrastructure." Glaeser also noted that Trump's plan was unlikely to do much for key infrastructure items like bus service for poorer communities.
The Democratic proposal is more old-fashioned — the federal government would mostly send money directly to states for public works. The biggest concern with a plan like this, Glaeser told me last fall, is that in the past, a lot of federal spending on infrastructure has been wasted on unnecessary new roads (or white elephant transit projects) rather than upgrading aging but valuable infrastructure.
The proposal — backed by Democratic Sens. Schumer, Tom Carper, Sherrod Brown, Bernie Sanders, Bill Nelson, Maria Cantwell, and Ron Wyden — steers away from new road construction and focuses more on repairing existing roads. It also has billions for transit, ports, the electric grid, and other projects. Here's a more precise breakdown:
One of the major obstacles here is that Republicans in Congress have flatly opposed massive new federal spending on infrastructure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called it "not a top priority." That means the only way this plan goes anywhere is if Donald Trump gets behind the idea and somehow convinces conservatives go to along.
Democrats, for their part, are hoping he'll do just that. "During his campaign, President Trump talked often about a big and bold infrastructure package," Schumer will say in his remarks today. "Well, this is one of the most comprehensive overhaul proposals in a generation, and we're challenging President Trump to work with us on this broad plan that will sustain our positive economic growth, create millions of jobs, and build a modern economy."