Infrastructure as a Wedge Issue Between Trump and Congressional Republicans

Today Senate Democrats will announce a plan that puts them on the offensive.

A group of senior Senate Democrats on Tuesday plan to unveil their own $1 trillion plan to revamp the nation’s airports, bridges, roads and seaports, urging President Trump to back their proposal, which they say would create 15 million jobs over 10 years.

The Democrats said their infrastructure plan would rely on direct federal spending and would span a range of projects including not only roads and bridges, but also the nation’s broadband network, hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs and schools.

To recap why this is important, all throughout the campaign, one of Trump’s big promises to working/middle class Americans was that he would propose a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. This has been one of Steve Bannon’s priorities.

The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.

Ever since Trump won in November, I’ve been following what other Republicans are saying about this Trump promise. In early December, neither VP Pence nor Speaker Paul Ryan included infrastructure in their top congressional priorities. A few days later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nixed the idea as well. Even Trump’s own chief of staff, Reince Priebus, downplayed the possibility. And yet the president continues to bring it up—even in his inaugural address.

One might speculate that there is a battle going on right now between Bannon and more establishment Republicans (both within the administration and in Congress) over whether or not to focus on an infrastructure plan, and if so, whether to do it via direct spending or tax breaks/credits for construction firms. Perhaps that is the backstory behind Robert Costa’s reporting that Paul Ryan’s allies are worried about Bannon’s latest White House hire, Breitbart reporter Julia Hahn.

“She’ll be Bannon’s Bannon and make Bannon look moderate,” said William Kristol, the editor at large of the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine. “Her tendency is to fight and fight, often to the extreme.”

Although Hahn will serve in a midlevel role as a special assistant to the president, her hiring alarmed and angered several Ryan allies, who expressed concern Monday about what they see as a brazen move by Bannon that threatened the fragile comity between Trump and Congress — and brightly underscored the Trump team’s insouciance about enlisting Ryan’s fiercest critic.

Into that breach step Senate Democrats with their proposal for a $1 trillion infrastructure package. Beyond the possibility of driving a wedge between Trump and Congressional Republicans, the Democrats have major credibility on this issue as the ones who have been promoting infrastructure spending for years now.

Because Democrats have put a proposal on the table that accomplishes what Bannon has been suggesting, the question becomes: will he even try to work with them? After all, he is the guy who was salivating about driving conservatives crazy with such a plan. Where else is he going to find Congressional allies to get something like this done?

Your call, Mr. Chief Strategist to the President.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.