Trump’s 2016 campaign pledges on infrastructure have fallen short, creating opening for Biden

Trump’s 2016 campaign pledges on infrastructure have fallen short, creating opening for Biden

10/18/2020 8:57:00 PM

Trump’s 2016 campaign pledges on infrastructure have fallen short, creating opening for Biden

The president ran aggressively on a $1 trillion infrastructure package that never materialized once he was in office.

Mike Vandersteen, the mayor of the small northeastern Wisconsin city of Sheboygan, said he voted for Trump in 2016 in part because he heard the real estate mogul channel his frustration with the inadequacy of the nation’s infrastructure. Sheboygan has for years struggled to finance local road repairs, but the city’s problems have intensified since 2016. The water levels on Lake Michigan have soared to unexpected and historic highs over the past two years, battering the 100-year-old water intake system on the mouth of the city’s coastline. Vandersteen worries the pipes are at risk of being flooded or damaged, imperiling residents’ drinking water.

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ADADVandersteen has written to the campaigns of both Biden and Trump asking for them to commit the federal government to fund $20 billion for cities along Lake Michigan to mitigate damage from rising coastlines. Neither has agreed to provide the aid the towns along Lake Michigan say is necessary.

“The president talked a lot about infrastructure, and nothing’s really come of it yet,” said Vandersteen, who added he is still undecided about whom to support in the 2020 presidential election. “This could really be catastrophic.”Even many of the White, blue-collar supporters of the president still hope he comes through with a deal. Don Iverson, 50, a logger in western Wisconsin, has for three decades used County Route K and Pray Road to haul red pine trees, white pine trees and oak trees to nearby sawmills. For the past five years, both Route K and Pray Road have been closed to Iverson’s trucks. New weight limits have also been imposed on a nearby bridge, on Highway 54. That means Iverson has to cut down his shipments and add another 30 miles’ drive each way to the sawmills.

ADADFour of Jackson County’s nine loggers have quit or gone out of business, Iverson said, in part because of their struggles with the shoddy town roads. Trucks are now forced to reroute through the city of Black River Falls, which is both more expensive and more dangerous due to more congested traffic. Without federal support, a half-dozen Wisconsin town managers say they have no means of repairing the roads or bridges.

“It is a huge added burden on our business. It never used to be like this,” said Iverson, 50, gesturing from his blue Dodge truck to the patchy and uneven splotches of blacktop applied to the town road. “They really need to get it fixed. I have no idea how they expect us to do this.”

The White House needed votes in Congress to approve an infrastructure plan. In the early days of his administration, the president and GOP prioritized repealing the Affordable Care Act and implementing a large tax cut instead of an infrastructure plan. Three former senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations, said there was never a serious discussion at the White House of putting infrastructure at the top of the GOP’s legislative to-do list. “Paul Ryan and these guys had waited 30 years for this once-in-a-lifetime chance to cut taxes. They were not going to let that go,” one of them said.

ADADTrump’s aides did work for months on an infrastructure package, eventually producing a package in 2018 with only $200 billion in new government spending stretched out over 10 years that relied heavily on leveraging additional private financing through “public-private partnerships.” Trump was ambivalent about the plan for private-public partnerships and even criticized it in front of the aides who developed it. Advisers believed that such a large package would be not acceptable to Congressional Republicans as they and the White House struggled to agree on how to pay for an infrastructure bill.

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In 2018, White House officials believed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was willing to reach a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure, but talks collapsed amid partisan arguments over theimpeachment inquiry. White House officials also did not believe Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was willing to give the president a victory on infrastructure spending. Congressional Democrats have said they were willing to make a deal as early as 2017 with Trump on infrastructure.

“I said, ‘Mr. President, you have every Democrat and every Republican prepared to devote a significant amount of money to an infrastructure program’ … I told Trump and his whole economic team in several meetings, ‘We have it all teed up for you,’ ” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. “It will go down in history as legislative malpractice that Donald Trump did not come out with a major infrastructure effort.”

ADADPeter Navarro, the most populist of the president’s senior economic advisers, said over the summer that the president supported a $1 trillion infrastructure package to help the United States build back from the pandemic. The message was privately ridiculed by other senior administration officials, and Navarro’s proposal never materialized.

The president and some of his senior advisers remain committed to the idea of infrastructure. Trump has continued to muse to advisers in recent weeks that he would do infrastructure in the second term.D.J. Gribbin, the president’s former adviser on infrastructure, left the administration in 2018 before the midterm elections when he saw little momentum to get a package through Congress. “One of the big head winds that any federal infrastructure runs into, there is a lack of understanding that the federal government cannot just create new money,” Gribbin said.

Infrastructure eventually became a standing joke in the Capitol and even the White House, with West Wing staffers joining jokes about “infrastructure week” as the issue was drowned out by impeachment and other serial Trump controversies, according to two former senior administration officials.

Read more: The Washington Post »

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