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White House Promises Infrastructure Bill, But With No Clear Deadline

Jan 8, 2018
Originally published on January 8, 2018 8:35 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Another thing that President Trump and congressional leaders discussed over the weekend was a possible infrastructure bill. It's something Trump has been talking about since the campaign. And as NPR's Tamara Keith reports, the White House says more details will be coming soon.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: In his big speech to a joint session of Congress in February, President Trump earned rousing applause when he talked about his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States financed through both public and private capital, creating millions of new jobs.

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KEITH: That was nearly a year ago. Since then, there have been two so-called infrastructure weeks where the president sought to draw attention to this idea.

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TRUMP: Our infrastructure program will be based on forging new partnerships and demanding new accountability for every federal taxpayer dollar.

KEITH: At the time of that June speech, the White House released a set of principles - an outline, if you will. Little has changed since then in the way White House officials and the president describe his plan. First, reduce the time it takes to get projects approved.

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TRUMP: So it's going to be quick. It's going to be a very streamlined process.

KEITH: Plus $200 billion in direct federal investment in roads, bridges and rural infrastructure.

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TRUMP: We are literally like a Third World country. Our infrastructure will again be the best.

KEITH: That 200 billion in federal dollars would somehow be leveraged into an overall investment of a trillion dollars. State and local governments and public-private partnerships would largely make up the difference. With the tax bill now signed, President Trump is once again talking about infrastructure.

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TRUMP: Infrastructure is by far the easiest. People want it - Republicans and Democrats. We're going to have tremendous Democrat support on infrastructure, as you know.

KEITH: Trump talked so frequently about infrastructure during the campaign that this time last year, Senate Democrats led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went through the exercise of rolling out their own trillion-dollar blueprint.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: He campaigned on a promise of bigger and better infrastructure. This plan - this plan is the way to make it happen.

KEITH: That plan went nowhere, and it offered solutions vastly different than what President Trump seems to have in mind. Just for starters, Democrats want significantly more federal funding, which could complicate that whole easy bipartisan bill thing. But behind the scenes, a deputy at the president's National Economic Council has been working full-time since early last year on infrastructure, gathering input from industry stakeholders and even from Democratic members of Congress. Democratic Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty from Connecticut has been over to the White House for conversations.

ELIZABETH ESTY: The White House has, in a way that they did not I don't think very seriously on the tax side - there's been more serious outreach on infrastructure side.

KEITH: Esty is on the Transportation Committee and is part of a bipartisan congressional effort to develop an infrastructure bill. While at the White House, she's argued that $200 billion in federal funding isn't enough and that there's no way it would actually leverage a trillion dollars in infrastructure investment. Esty says she won't really know if she's been heard until she sees a plan from the Trump administration.

ESTY: I'm hopeful that the White House is genuine and looking for common ground on transportation and infrastructure because if they are and they're really willing to listen to and consider a wide range of proposals, they should be able to find that.

KEITH: A White House official says to expect a fleshed-out plan - more than an outline, less than a fully drafted bill - sometime soon, maybe even this month. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.