The Democratic leaders and the president agreed to pursue a $2 trillion plan — but they haven’t worked out how to pay for it.
Updated 04/30/2019 02:43 PM EDT
President Donald Trump and top congressional Democrats agreed Tuesday to spend $2 trillion to repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges — though they punted on how exactly they’d pay for it.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed their 90-minute meeting at the White House with Trump as surprisingly productive following a series of clashes between the president and newly emboldened Democrats this year.Story Continued Below
“It was a very constructive meeting. It’s clear that both the White House and all of us want to get something done on infrastructure in a big and bold way,” Schumer told reporters at the White House. “And there was goodwill in this meeting, and that was different than some of the other meetings that we’ve had, which is a very good thing.”
Trump didn’t bring up House Democrats’ slew of investigations into his administration, his policies and his finances, lawmakers said, though he has previously said he wouldn’t be able to work with Democrats on legislation if they continued with their aggressive oversight.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders described the meeting as “excellent and productive” — even as White House officials blasted Democrats earlier in the day — and said Trump “looks forward to working together in a bipartisan way.”
Sanders said there would be another infrastructure meeting in three weeks “to discuss specific proposals and financing methods,“ and said Trump and Democratic leaders would also meet soon to discuss their shared interest in lowering prescription drug prices.
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Trump used the meeting with Pelosi, Schumer and 10 other senior Democrats to raise a slew of policy issues from trade and immigration to health care. “It was all over the place, the whole meeting,” said a Democratic aide in the room.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow repeatedly raised the question of Trump’s trade deal with Mexico and Canada and what it would take for Democrats to agree. Democrats answered that they needed labor and environmental protections to even consider the new trade deal, Schumer said.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow also said a bipartisan cost-sharing reduction plan to lower heath premiums was also discussed and Trump asked why it hadn’t been passed. In fact, the White House opposed it.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also spoke during the meeting; Ivanka Trump was silent.
Trump told the attendees that he likes the number $2 trillion for an infrastructure plan, and that it sounds better than $1.9 trillion, another number that had been batted around, according to a source familiar with the meeting. Trump did reject Schumer’s offer of $2.2 trillion, the minority leader said. He also panned the idea of including new labor regulations in any infrastructure bill.
After the meeting, Pelosi and Schumer presented a united front as they stood outside the White House, praising Trump’s “positive attitude” and painting him as an eager partner.
“We’re very excited about the conversation we had with the president,” Pelosi said. “We have opportunity to work together in a bipartisan way.”
Both Trump and Democrats are eager for a legislative win before the 2020 elections, though it will be difficult to find consensus even on bipartisan issues like infrastructure — particularly on how to cover the cost of such massive investments.
Every Democrat in the room pressed Trump on what he was willing to do to cover the $2 trillion price tag, including raising the gas tax and or taxes on the wealthy.
Democrats oppose the White House’s previous plan of relying on private businesses for a large chunk of the funding. Trump and his advisers made clear they were ditching that old proposal centered on public-private partnerships, which was drafted by former adviser Gary Cohn.
Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, flanked by Democratic congressional leaders, take questions after meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Trump didn’t engage on the question of how to pay for new infrastructure investments, and Democrats are waiting on him to propose something first.
“The ball is in the president’s court to come up with ‘pay-fors‘ and I look forward to meeting with them in three weeks about that,” Schumer said. “The president didn’t get into any specifics. We just told him we needed him to come up with how he would propose paying for this and then we would counter it.”
Democrats have been urging the president to consider scrapping some tax cuts for the wealthy from the 2017 tax law to help pay for infrastructure. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said that’s a “non-starter” for Republicans, but Democrats will want some progressive economic reforms to move forward.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told Trump and his aides as he was leaving that “fairness for working class people and economic growth are not incompatible. We have to do both,” Wyden told reporters after the meeting.
Earlier, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway declined to say whether Trump would support an increase in the gas tax.
The two Democratic leaders walked away with what they considered an early political victory — no televised sparring with Trump over Robert Mueller’s report into the Russia investigation.
Pelosi and Schumer also talked up a policy win: convincing Trump to agree to rural broadband — a key priority for the party’s moderates — as well as agreeing to the total price tag that Democrats have long touted.
“It started a little lower, even the president was eager to push it up to $2 trillion,” Schumer said, showing the gap between Trump and some of his advisers.
White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, the administration’s top deficit hawk, wasn’t in the meeting as Trump apparently agreed to a higher number than his other advisers were pushing and set low expectations for a deal.
Speaking in California, Mulvaney said he believed there was a much better chance of Congress passing a new trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico — another heavy lift with Democrats — than passing an infrastructure deal.
While the concept of boosting infrastructure investment has bipartisan support, the Trump administration wants to find a way to speed up projects by overhauling regulations, and Mulvaney said that’s where infrastructure talks could break down.
“I want to change the environmental laws,” he said. “How do you feel about that as a Democrat? It’s going to be a very difficult place for some of them to go.”
Caitlin Oprysko and Zachary Warmbrodt contributed to this report.
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