From now until Election Day, The Brian Lehrer Show is hosting a series called “30 Issues in 30 Days.” The idea is to dive deep on one issue a day to give voters a sense of what candidates are saying about the policies that affect their lives. This week the series is looking at how Democrats would try to change policy if they won Congress. First up: Infrastructure.
When he was first elected president, Donald Trump called infrastructure “the easy” issue, and said he was “saving it” for last after he got done cutting taxes for wealthiest Americans and eradicating the Affordable Care Act. “We're going to have tremendous Democrat [sic] support on infrastructure,” Trump predicted at the tail end of 2017. But when the administration finally got around to addressing infrastructure, a full year after the election, it was less like the gooey best last bite of a Cinnabon bun, and more like a year-old sandwich no one wanted to eat. The original $1 trillion plan Trump had campaigned on was whittled down to $200 billion, a sum Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called “paltry” and an insult to the working people of America.
Why does this matter in November?
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said if Democrats win control of the House, passing an infrastructure bill will be among its first priorities. It’s likely the version brought to the table will be a variation of a plan released earlier this year in “A Better Deal,” a package of proposals put out by House Democrats around issues like labor, federal housing and pensions (note what’s left out: more inflammatory issues like immigration and health care, on which Democrats seem more divided and have trouble establishing a party line).
The Democrats’ proposal on infrastructure would cost the federal government $1 trillion divided among a diverse range of projects—$140 billion for roads and bridges, $30 billion in railways, $115 billion for water and sewer infrastructure and $50 billion to rebuild schools. It would also allocate money to less conventional areas—$80 billion to upgrade the country’s energy grid and $40 billion to build high-speed Internet connections in hard to reach areas.
“This isn’t your grandfather's plan,” Schumer said at the launch of the proposal. “FDR said every rural home should have electricity. We think that every rural home, and inner city home, should have high speed internet.”
The Democrats estimate the plan will create 10 million jobs, and to pay for it they propose rolling back the recently passed Republican tax overhaul and reinstating a top income tax rate of 39.6 percent, along with restoring the individual alternative minimum tax, reversing cuts to the estate tax, and raising the corporate income tax from 21 percent to 25 percent. Sounds like the Republicans would be cool with that ha ha, right? Other ideas include imposing a federal gas tax.
But could a massive infrastructure bill pass?
This may be an issue where the President himself is more in line with Democrats than with his own party in Congress. He wanted his infrastructure proposal to include more federal funding, but then-economic advisor Gary Cohn talked him into backing a public-private model—which Republicans were more comfortable with—where the federal government only pays $200 billion, and private businesses and local governments kick in more.
In an interview in September, Cohn told Reuters that if Democrats win they House, he expects them to introduce infrastructure legislation first and predicts the President to revert to earlier form. “I think they'll do a trillion dollars, trillion and a half dollars of infrastructure, and the president will sign it."
"Another trillion dollars of debt, here we come," he added.
But, of course, the bill will need some bipartisan support, and at least in the Senate, the idea of repealing the hard fought for tax bill induces foot-stamping and eye-rolling. Speaking on the floor of the Senate in March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scoffed, “Repeal all these bonuses, pay raises, new jobs, and new investments? Talk about a nonstarter.”
For more on the infrastructure issue, listen to Brian Lehrer's 30 Issues in 30 Days segment: