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Washington Monthly | The Democrats Don’t Need the White House as a Partner to Push Infrastructure

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After congressional Democrats visited the White House in late April to discuss to doing a very large infrastructure bill, I expressed skepticism that anything would come of it and recommended that the House Democrats just go ahead and write a good bill without wasting too much time on fruitless negotiations.

The idea wouldn’t be to pass something that the Senate Republicans would take up themselves. The bill would almost certainly be a dead end. But the effort would be useful anyway. It would prepare the next Congress (and hopefully the next president) to hit the ground running. It would help the Democrats iron out how they want to pay for the bill. And it would…show the voters that the reason they can’t have the best infrastructure in the world is not due to generalized congressional dysfunction but is instead entirely the fault of the Republican Party.

In the April meeting, it was agreed that the Democrats would return in three weeks to hear how the administration plans to pay for the $2 trillion price tag. On Wednesday morning, the same team trudged up Pennsylvania Avenue to get the results. Before they left, Speaker Pelosi told the press that no one is above the law and that the president is engaged in a coverup, so I’m not sure she was greeted warmly at the White House.

According to Politico’s Wednesday Playbook, the White House has reneged on their promise. Despite engaging “staffers at the National Economic Council, Treasury and OMB,” they only came up with half the money and they’re not prepared to spell out a rhetorical argument for passing the bill.

The White House is not going to present any plan to pay for rebuilding the nation’s roads and highways.

INSTEAD, the administration will ask DEMOCRATS to make the case for a $2 trillion package. The White House has identified roughly $1 trillion in spending cuts to pay for legislation — about as realistic a plan as saying this newsletter will fly you to the moon if you say abracadabra.

To make matters even more bleak, Donald Trump sent a letter to Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on Tuesday that said that he’s looking forward to Wednesday’s infrastructure meeting but wants them to work on the Canada-Mexico trade deal first. He also indicated that he wants to hold the highway trust fund hostage as a way of forcing Congress to pass the infrastructure bill. The trust fund needs a new infusion of money in September, so I guess they don’t have an argument for upgrading our infrastructure, but they do have a strategy. If they don’t get the votes to invest in infrastructure, they’ll let our roads go to seed.

Needless to say, the congressional Democrats should not agree to participate in any strategy of this type, and I reiterate my advice that they just work on creating a good bill without making any serious effort to get the Senate or White House on board.

Trump has already told Schumer and Pelosi that he wants to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure. Why not hand him a good bill and see how he reacts? He might respond by asking Mitch McConnell to pass it in the Senate. That wouldn’t get McConnell to move on it, but it would cause divisions and infighting, which is a political benefit for the Democrats. But it shouldn’t be primarily about the politics. People need to understand what the parties stand for and which party is responsible for inaction on national priorities, but the party also needs to do the hard work of writing a good piece of legislation. It’s better to do it now than to wait until the chance comes to actually enact the law.

It could also work for the eleventy billion Democrats who are running for president. They could weigh in on the House’s efforts and offer their competing ideas, which would highlight the importance of the issue for the party and create a nice contrast with the do-nothing GOP.

The best part is that the House Democrats can claim that they’re trying to help Trump keep his campaign promises, which would technically be true. After all, without a bill to sign, he has no hope of keeping his infrastructure promises, and the Republican-controlled Senate isn’t going to write one.

I think the House should hold extensive hearings on the country’s infrastructure needs and how they can use a major bill to address climate change. They should pass the bill at the end of the year and then campaign on the issue when the Republican-controlled Senate inevitably lets the infrastructure issue die in Congress.

There are a lot of voters out there who will take the Democrats side in that debate.

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Thanks !

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