Happy Infrastructure Week!
OK, I know some of you are distracted by competing current events. But the Trump administration would prefer that we all concentrate on the president’s plans for improving the nation’s roads and bridges.
Trump promised he’d be discussing infrastructure with all the major players “in great depth next week.” This was right before he went into a meeting with legislative leaders Tuesday. You may be wondering why he didn’t discuss it with them in great depth right at that moment. Since this is, you know, Infrastructure Week.
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One possible answer is that the president likes promising to discuss important policy matters in the future much more than he likes working on them in the present. But to be fair, one of the Republican leaders did report later that Trump had mentioned the wall along the Mexican border, which would definitely be a structure. The president revealed he wants to pay for it by putting solar panels along the top.
Wait a minute, I thought he hated renewable energy!
Where did you come from? No, he doesn’t hate renewable energy. Just wind power, and that’s just because the Scottish government put some turbines near one of his golf courses.
But let me tell you a little more about Infrastructure Week. While the whole world was talking about James Comey, Trump launched it with a plug for privatization of part of the Federal Aviation Administration. He sat down in front of the cameras and signed what might have looked, to the uninitiated, like a law, or a program, or at least a calendar of events. But it was really just a letter to Congress encouraging everyone to take up the FAA idea. Which they have already made pretty clear they probably won’t.
Why would we want to privatize the FAA? It’s not going to make flying safer. If they wanted to make it better, they could tell the airlines to put in more leg room.
I could use a little less interruption. But, yeah.
During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a $1 trillion program to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges and waterways. It was a super popular idea, and once he was elected, one of the very few bright spots congressional Democrats saw on the horizon. They figured Republican fiscal conservatives would balk, but they could make a deal to deliver the needed extra votes.
“I told him – you know you'll need our support,” a prominent Democrat happily told me last year. “And he said, ‘Yeah.’”
This is what conversation sounds like in Washington these days. Still, by Trumpian standards, that’s the Gettysburg Address.
But Trump’s people never reached out to the Democrats, who had reasonable reservations about the original plan, which made some very iffy presumptions about using tax credits to get private investment in the roads and bridges. Under the very best of circumstances, it would mean a lot of tolls. It would also require a lot of smart government oversight, and we are talking here about a White House that has yet to figure out how to nominate an ambassador to Great Britain.
Plus, the president’s budget actually cut $206 billion the government had already committed to infrastructure projects. So Wednesday, when Trump was in Cincinnati standing by the mighty Ohio and extolling the glories of river transport, cynics gloomily recalled that he wants to slice a billion dollars from the Army Corps of Engineers, which fixes the dams and locks.
Did he brag about winning the election? He always does that in his speeches.
Yeah, there was a little mention of how Ohio “was supposed to be close. It wasn’t.” He spent much more time praising himself for approving the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which required him to courageously stand up to environmental groups that had not supported him in the election. (“Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg. I just closed my eyes and I said: ‘Do it.’”)
What’s wrong with investing government money on roads? President Eisenhower did the biggest highway construction program ever, and he was a Republican.
If you’re going to try to imagine Donald Trump and Dwight Eisenhower in the same party, we can’t continue talking.
But Trump did bring up Eisenhower’s grand achievement in Cincinnati. “The Interstate Highway System – we don’t do that anymore. We don’t even fix them,” he complained. There was no explanation of how the fixing was going to be accomplished through private investors, who want new tolls, not fewer potholes.
He didn’t say anything at all about how his infrastructure plan would work, possibly because it doesn’t appear to exist at this point in time. The Democrats do have one, but Trump certainly hasn’t read it.
Because he can’t read, right?
Don’t be mean. He just doesn’t like to read at great length. But the president made it sound as if, at the first mention of the word “infrastructure,” the Democrats had thrown themselves upon the barricades. “I just don’t see them coming together. They’re obstructionist,” he claimed.
The emperor has no clothes.
Yeah, this one has been buck naked since the day he took office.