As Trump touts infra plan, gap with Democrats widens

The US president outlined his vision at a speech in Cincinnati on Wednesday, part of the administration’s ‘infrastructure week’, but looks unlikely to bring Democrats in Congress on board.

US President Donald Trump stepped up efforts to rally support behind his infrastructure plan this week, highlighting proposals to streamline regulations and increase flexibility for non-federal actors.

“Our plan will help states and local governments prioritise their most pressing infrastructure needs, building transformative projects that create a flood of wealth to benefit every part of our country, especially rural America,” Trump said Wednesday at a speech delivered in Cincinnati, with the Ohio River serving as the backdrop.

Trump’s remarks came as part of the administration’s “infrastructure week”, which kicked off Monday with a speech outlining a proposal to privatise US air traffic control. The president plans to meet with governors and mayors on Thursday to discuss local infrastructure needs, then on Friday to sign an executive order aimed at speeding up the permitting process.

Trump’s remarks echoed an outline released last month by the administration, with the president promising at least $200 billion in federal spending over 10 years to leverage $1 trillion in total investment. Trump said he has already begun the process of streamlining approvals and eliminating unnecessary environmental regulations. Businesses, he said, “have been waiting for a responsible partner in the federal government. You’ve been waiting for a long time. Now you have one.”

Trump said he hopes to get both parties working together on the issue. But while infrastructure had been touted as a potential area of bipartisan cooperation, Democrats in Congress have grown increasingly cool towards the president’s plan as details have emerged. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said after the election that he was willing to work with the president on infrastructure. But the combination of limited federal spending – the $200 billion comes alongside cuts to the transportation department – and loosening of environmental rules has not gained much momentum among Democrats.

“I have not heard a single colleague say that he or she was remotely tempted by this scam plan that Trump is putting out there,” Congressman Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said in a press call held by the left-leaning ‘Millions of Jobs’ coalition shortly after Trump’s speech ended on Wednesday. “Instead of making a real investment in [infrastructure] and putting together a bipartisan plan, Trump comes back with a strategy for just giving away more money to Wall Street, foreign banks and investors.”

Schumer, meanwhile, called Trump’s proposal last month “a job-killing, 180-degree turn away” from his campaign promise of infrastructure investment. And a reliance on private sector dollars would lead to the proliferation of “Trump tolls”, Schumer later added, a phrase that by Wednesday had made its way into Democratic talking points on the proposal.