Infrastructure Talks Continue on Capitol Hill, but No Action Yet

When Rep. Peter DeFazio, the new House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman, opened his panel’s first infrastructure hearing in the new Congress, he tapped some buttons on his phone and, on purpose, set off what sounded like a warning klaxon. “That is the alarm sounding for America’s infrastructure,” the Oregon Democrat told the scores of attendees at the Feb. 7 hearing. He added that “there’s a four-alarm situation in front of us.”

The questions are whether a majority in Congress and the Trump administration will respond to that alarm—and if so, when, and where will the additional money come from. The infrastructure spending gap is wide: DeFazio cited the American Society of Civil Engineers’ estimate of $2 trillion over 10 years.

Just two days earlier, construction and engineering officials watching President Trump’s State of the Union Address received the signal they were waiting for, when Trump said he is “eager” to work with Congress on legislation that would bring about a “great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure.” He added, “‘This is not an option. This is a necessity.”

But the mention of infrastructure in the 80-plus-minute address was brief and the president provided no specifics about how large the plan should be or how he would pay for it.

In his 2018 State of the Union speech, Trump put a number on his plan, saying investment should be “at least $1.5 trillion.” Fleshing out the idea, he said federal dollars “should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit.” The plan went nowhere on Capitol Hill last year, however.

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