Politics

Trump Eyes a Bipartisan Idea to Pay for Rebuilt Roads, Bridges

Republicans and Democrats have pitched a national infrastructure bank

Workers oversee heavy machinery in April as they move earth on the National Mall near 7th St. Northwest. President-elect Donald Trump wants to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are mulling ways to finance a massive infrastructure-rebuilding project, floating an idea championed by some Democrats as one option to get a legislative package to his desk.

During their bitter presidential campaign, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had championed an infrastructure investment bank while Trump proposed paying for projects by “repatriating” profits U.S. corporations held overseas with a one-time 10 percent tax.

But on Wednesday, Trump’s potential Treasury secretary told reporters that Clinton’s plan is in play. And there is evidence Trump’s team is already making calls to sympathetic lawmakers. Passage of an infrastructure package, despite an inevitably big price tag, could be a winner for both parties because it would create jobs, even if only temporary ones.

“If they’re serious about doing something in this area, and doing it on a bipartisan basis, we are certainly ready to work with them,” Maryland Democratic Rep. John Delaney, a major proponent of infrastructure upgrades and a federal bank, told Roll Call on Wednesday. “We feel like we have a framework ready to do this.”

He said previous efforts, which didn’t result in floor votes, had “massive bipartisan support.” As for the incoming administration, he added, “We hope this is one of their first 100 days priorities.”

Bank proponents perked up when former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin, a Trump transition team executive committee member who has been mentioned as a possible Treasury secretary, told a media pool earlier in the day in New York that the idea is getting “very big focus” from the president-elect and his economic team.

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They are “looking at the creation of an infrastructure bank to fund infrastructure investments,” Mnuchin said. “So, there’s a lot of things to do and I’d say the economic priorities are clearly taxes, regulatory [changes], trade and infrastructure.”

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader, told reporters Wednesday that Democrats are ready to work with Trump on areas of agreement. Infrastructure would provide some common ground, according to lawmakers and sources.

An infrastructure bank may still not materialize in any legislation the new administration might send to Congress.

“Right now, we’re just still in the planning stages,” Mnuchin said. “We want to be in a position where in the first 100 days we can execute the economic plan.”

Infrastructure investment banks have been proposed by lawmakers and the Obama administration on multiple occasions in recent years. The concept calls on Congress to allocate a pot of money. The president then appoints a group of people representing both political parties and headed by a CEO to oversee the bank’s operations and select projects. Loans would be matched by private investments or by local governments.

There is one catch: To pay back the bank’s loans, each project would have to generate revenue. That’s never a guarantee, which could compound the difficulty of getting a plan through both chambers with attention already shifting to the 2018 mid-term elections.

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Clinton pitched a bank as part of her five-year, $275 billion infrastructure plan. Trump called for twice as much spending but has not been clear about how he would pay for such a project. During the campaign, Trump said he intended, as president, to “build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, seaports and airports.”

Floating the idea of a bank could be an olive branch to Democrats who could provide important support if fiscal conservatives balk.

One of those Democrats could be Delaney, who has introduced infrastructure legislation in recent years. His latest attempt had bipartisan support but failed to make it out of committee. That bill would have instituted an 8.75 percent tax on repatriated corporate funds to generate a total of $175 billion for projects across the country.

Trump’s plan, though still very vague, could have an easier road in the Senate.

Just last May, Nebraska GOP Sen. Deb Fischer unveiled a bill that would have created the “American Infrastructure Bank,” proposing that it would, according to her office, “offer states new financing and funding tools to generate transportation projects — an innovative approach with proven results back in Nebraska.”

On Wednesday, Fischer told Roll Call she has talked with Trump’s transition team about forming an infrastructure bank and would continue to work with them flesh out details.

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“We’re giving them some ideas on that and I look forward to more conversations on it,” she said.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, once wrote a bill with Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt that envisioned a federal bank capable of financing up to 49 percent of a nationally or regionally significant infrastructure project.

Dan Glickman, an Agriculture secretary under Bill Clinton and a Democratic former nine-term congressman from Kansas, recently told Bloomberg Television that “there are ways to fund it.

“You can raise the gas tax, you can repatriate money that American corporations have offshore, you can set up a national infrastructure bank, we could [change again] the American budget policy,” Glickman said. “There are ways to do it, we have to do it.”

Jacob Fischler contributed to this report.Contact Bennett at johnbennett@cqrollcall.com. Follow him on Twitter @BennettJohnT.

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