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WASHINGTON – A broad coalition of House Democrats is laying out an infrastructure plan road map that calls on the federal government to provide the majority of funding and warns against repealing environmental regulations.
The resolution, to be introduced Monday, is a joint effort of members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the moderate Blue Dogs and newly elected Democrats. The groups hope it will provide a framework for party leadership ahead of Tuesday's scheduled trip to the White House by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for a meeting with President Donald Trump to determine whether there is common ground on what traditionally has been a bipartisan issue.
The resolution calls for significant federal investment in infrastructure, stating that most of the funding should come from the government rather than private entities — a sharp contrast to Trump's initial plan to leverage $200 billion in federal dollars as an incentive to attract a total of $1 trillion in infrastructure spending. The president's proposal never gained traction on Capitol Hill, and Trump himself did not seem to fully embrace it.
"We thought it was important to set a marker down," Rep. Ted Lieu of California, the progressive lawmaker who spearheaded the resolution, told CNBC. "We're not going to support a fake infrastructure proposal if it's really just a bunch of tax breaks to a bunch of corporations."
But Democrats have not yet settled on how big any legislation should be, and the resolution stops short of specifying a dollar amount.
Instead, it highlights the American Society of Civil Engineers' estimate that there is a $2 trillion shortfall in funding to modernize the nation's infrastructure over the next decade. At a party retreat earlier this month, Pelosi said she believed any bill should outline at least $1 trillion in spending but she would prefer $2 trillion.
The resolution also makes clear that Democrats will not support loosening or eliminating environmental regulations in order to foster greater investment, setting up another potential flash point with the Trump administration. A key plank of the White House's infrastructure plan has been streamlining permitting regulations, particularly in the absence of a deal with Congress. But Democrats are worried the moves merely undermine environmental safeguards.
One potential area of agreement could be the need for a broad definition of infrastructure. The resolution states it should include increasing access to broadband in rural areas and safeguarding critical infrastructure from cyberattacks. The Trump administration has called for similar priorities.
However, the resolution does not address one of the thorniest issues: how to pay for it. Democrats have not coalesced around a single approach. Several presidential candidates have proposed raising the corporate tax rate to pay for infrastructure, a move previously supported by Senate Democrats. The Chamber of Commerce has called for raising the gas tax. And part of the cost will likely be balanced by more jobs and faster economic growth, Lieu said.
"I do believe some of infrastructure will be offset from the increase in revenues, but it's not going to be offset completely," he said. "I'm not going to say 2 plus 2 equals 7."
Lieu introduced the resolution during the last session of Congress, when Republicans controlled the House. This time, Democrats have a seat at the negotiating table, and Lieu said urgency is growing.
"We simply can't afford to keep on pushing off this issue," he said. "It gets more expensive the more we delay."
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