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Officials Tackle Infrastructure Funding05/22 06:19

   Reality has set in during the three weeks since President Donald Trump and 
Democratic congressional leaders agreed to work together on a $2 trillion 
package to invest in roads, bridges and broadband.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Reality has set in during the three weeks since President 
Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders agreed to work together on a 
$2 trillion package to invest in roads, bridges and broadband.

   Republican leaders in Congress have shown little enthusiasm for the price 
tag, and even less for the idea of raising the federal fuel tax to help pay for 
upgrading the nation's infrastructure. Trump himself has suggested that 
Democrats are somehow setting a trap to get him to go along with a tax increase.

   Trump and Democratic lawmakers will meet at the White House on Wednesday for 
Round 2 of their infrastructure talks.

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said 
after their last White House meeting in late April that there was a consensus 
on one aspect of infrastructure: The agreement would be big and bold. But 
funding is a different matter. Democrats emerged saying they would return to 
hear Trump's suggestions on how to pay for infrastructure.

   But Trump expressed wariness in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday, 
saying he thought the White House was "being played by the Democrats a little 
bit. You know, I think what they want me to do is say, 'Well, what we'll do is 
raise taxes,' and we'll do this and this and this, and then they'll have a news 
conference, see, 'Trump wants to raise taxes.'"

   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed the potential for a 
sweeping plan or for raising the gas tax at a recent Senate GOP lunch with Vice 
President Mike Pence, according to those familiar with the meeting.

   And House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said that it was unrealistic 
to place the funding decision with the president. Democrats will need to make 
suggestions, too.

   "You don't ask the president, 'Show me how to pay for it,'" Scalise said. 
"The president doesn't pass the bill that pays for it. Ultimately, it has got 
to go through the House and Senate. We, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, 
have to come to an agreement, working with the White House, on how to pay for 
it. Those negotiations haven't really started in earnest."

   The White House released a letter Tuesday night that Trump sent Pelosi and 
Schumer in advance of the meeting letting them know his preference for Congress 
taking up the proposed U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada before other 
issues.

   "Once Congress has passed USMCA, we should turn our attention to a 
bipartisan infrastructure package," Trump said.

   Trump also requested that Pelosi and Schumer provide more specifics about 
how much they would like to dedicate to the various priorities they want an 
infrastructure bill to cover, such as airports, ports and local wastewater 
systems.

   "Your caucus has expressed a wide-range of priorities, and it is unclear 
which ones have your support," he said.

   Trump also complained that he had hoped to work out the priorities following 
a meeting in late April at the White House, "but you cancelled a scheduled 
meeting of our teams, preventing them from advancing our discussions. 
Nevertheless, I remain committed to passing an infrastructure bill."

   Shortly after the release of Trump's letter, Pelosi and Schumer issued their 
own statement, promising to continue "to insist on our principles: that any 
plan we support be big, bold and bipartisan; that it be comprehensive, 
future-focused, green and resilient; and that it be a jobs and ownership-boost 
with strong Buy America, labor, and women, veteran and minority-owned business 
protections."

   Business and trade groups have been meeting with White House officials to 
emphasize the importance of shoring up the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for 
road improvements and transit systems. Federal fuel taxes supply most of the 
money that goes into the trust fund, but the purchasing power of the gas tax 
has declined as vehicles have become more fuel efficient.

   Some 30 states have enacted fuel tax increases to raise money for local 
roads and bridges over the past six years, but Congress has not approved a fuel 
tax increase since 1993. It now stands at 18.3 cents a gallon for gasoline and 
24.3 cents a gallon for diesel.

   The advocacy groups are trying to make the case that state politicians 
supportive of gas tax increases have not been punished at the ballot box.

   "The political playbook has changed. People will vote for infrastructure 
even if it means new user fees," said Linda Bauer Darr, president & CEO of the 
American Council of Engineering Companies.

   However, the White House has been reluctant to provide any details of what 
the president will support.

   Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced a bill Tuesday that would raise the 
fuels tax by 5 cents a year over five years and allow it to rise at the rate of 
inflation thereafter. It also would establish that Congress intends to replace 
the fuel tax with a more equitable, stable source of funding within 10 years. 
Blumenauer supports taxing vehicles --- including electric ones --- based on 
miles traveled.

   "It is past time that we get real about funding our infrastructure needs," 
Blumenauer said. "We can't afford inaction any longer."

   The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and the American Trucking 
Associations voiced support for Blumenauer's bill. That's a rare mix of support 
on a major issue before Congress.

   But some conservative groups are urging Congress to resist any gas tax 
increases. The Charles Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity said lawmakers 
should streamline the permitting process for construction on highways and other 
infrastructure, a move that could alienate many Democratic lawmakers.

   "Congress has money to improve roads and bridges. They just need to spend it 
smarter," said Russ Latino, a vice president at Americans for Prosperity.


(KA)

 
 
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