This is the fourth in what we plan as a series of posts on what the Administration and Congress may do to address the nation’s ailing infrastructure.
This has been an amazing 100 days. You can feel a slight breath of relief in DC right now because Congress has joined in the national ritual of a Spring Recess. It will be interesting to see what they learn when they go home. The polls (who can believe them anymore?) say that Trump’s base is starting to question whether what they bought will produce what they thought—which is HUGE changes. Every indication so far is No. No replacement for Obamacare. No change in immigration laws. No hands-off Syria! U.S. warships headed toward North Korea. NATO is no longer useless, the Chinese don’t need to change the value of their money, and Putin is not a Nice Guy. To be fair, there’s been a Federal hiring freeze, a reversal of several Obama environmental regulations and a new Supreme Court justice confirmed, but that’s about it for the first 100 days.
What can we say is on the horizon for accomplishments? Let’s take funding the Federal government first. For well over two decades, neither Republicans nor Democrats have been able to pass a budget on time – which means last October 1st. Your national government is running on a temporary funding measure, which winds up costing taxpayers money. When government agencies can’t plan their programs for a year and are limited in what they can do with the partial funding Congress gave them in December, they can’t budget their funds any better than you could if you were only partially employed for more than half the year and didn’t know how much the full-time job your Aunt Emma promised you on May 1st was going to pay. And if you do get the job, you have to spend all the money for an entire fiscal year by September 30th or else get penalized in the next fiscal year for asking for money you couldn’t spend. You don’t need to be a fiscal hawk to see how President Trump’s “financial savviness” isn’t exactly playing out as planned.
To be very clear, this is not President Trump’s fault; it’s an annual failure by the folks the voters elect to Congress. I’m focusing on funding because it’s at the heart of several key decisions confronting Congress. One of these can’t be avoided. The temporary measure funding the Federal government expires April 28th. Ironically, the dust-up in the Senate over Justice Gorsuch may make it easier for at least Senate Republicans and Democrats to produce a bipartisan agreement to fund the government for the remaining 5/12ths of the year that remain. To do that, they will have to put off until the next year a Trump request for additional funding for defense and the border wall. Speaker Ryan may need to resort to getting help from House Democrats to go along if Trump’s tweets don’t make the House Freedom Caucus members cower in fear of loss of their extremely safe seats. Let’s hope they can pull this funding measure off because it opens the door to the possibility of other accomplishments.
Will an infrastructure package be one of those? I’ve said before that this won’t happen until next year when the sweet bipartisan smell of new jobs mixes with the siren song of the 2018 elections. But that doesn’t mean a strong push for infrastructure should wait for the President’s warring advisers to start the drive. Axios’ Mike Allen declared recently that “Trump goes where the applause is loudest.” He boosted the need for an infrastructure plan most recently when he spoke to a group of New York developers. He has talked it up among his union supporters. Isn’t it time for all those interests who will benefit from a long-term commitment to first class highways, safe bridges, efficient inland waterways, safe dams and levees, and coastal storm and sea level rise resilience.
This won’t come from a plan that gives us 10, 20 or 30 projects, although that’s a start. It will come when the Administration and Congress take this seriously and give a bipartisan commission a mandate to pull together the key stakeholders, including mayors, governors, environmental interests and academics, to figure out what needs to be done over the next 20 years.
Is the nation ready for a movement that speaks out FOR something? Let me know if you think it is.