Infrastructure won’t be the big item Trump can check off as an early win

By Curtis Tate
McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan won’t be ready until later this year, delaying one of his signature campaign promises and depriving his administration of a big policy achievement in the first months of his presidency.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said Wednesday at an event marking the Department of Transportation’s 50th anniversary that the package would be a “strategic, targeted program of investment” of $1 trillion over 10 years.

It would include more than just transportation, Chao said, encompassing energy, water, broadband and veterans hospitals. It will be announced later this year, she said. Chao offered nothing more specific.

When asked Wednesday whether the administration had a cost estimate on either an infrastructure plan or a tax overhaul, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said no.

“I think you need to have plans laid out first,” he said. “And I think part of this is that we’re in the beginning phases of both of those.”

As McClatchy has reported since January, Trump’s infrastructure plan is expected to lean heavily on public-private partnerships rather than traditional federal spending. It also envisions policy changes to make the permitting process faster.

“Investors say there is ample capital available, waiting to invest in infrastructure projects,” Chao said. “So the problem is not money. It’s the delays caused by government permitting processes that hold up projects for years, even decades, making them risky investments.”

Because of last week’s failure of Republican leaders in the House of Representatives to secure enough votes for Trump’s replacement bill for Obamacare, the administration appears to be headed toward the end of its first 100 days with no major legislative achievements. New presidents, particularly those whose parties control both houses of Congress, often get major initiatives approved within the first months of their terms.

Trump’s infrastructure blueprint, meanwhile, has been delayed by the lack of staffing, White House disorganization and behind-the-scenes turf wars.

Dan Slane, a developer who had met with senior White House officials in January and presented them with a list of 50 “shovel-ready” projects, told McClatchy that the stumbles didn’t bode well for getting a deal done this year.

“I give them zero chance of getting this done in 2017,” he said.

Trump’s budget plan proposes $2.4 billion in cuts to Department of Transportation programs, including subsidies for Amtrak and rural air service, as well as grant funding that’s proved popular with mayors and governors in many states.

The Trump administration hasn’t been able to devote the kind of manpower the Obama White House did to infrastructure in its first few months, said Ray LaHood, a Republican who was President Barack Obama’s first transportation secretary.

“The difference here is that this discussion started the day after President Obama was elected, not the day after he was sworn in,” LaHood said. “This administration has a lot of balls in the air.”

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