President Trump has promised that a $1 trillion infrastructure plan will be put in front of lawmakers before the end of the year, but a group of liberal lawmakers want to see twice that investment during the next 10 years.
That kind of political one-upsmanship could hurt lawmakers' ability to actually pass an infrastructure proposal when a legislative package is introduced, an analyst argued.
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus signed on to a plan to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, a proposal they're calling the 21st Century New Deal for Jobs. The goal is to adapt President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal from the Great Depression for modern times through direct government investment.
The plan would invest $200 billion per year over 10 years in a variety of areas — roads, bridges, drinking water and waste water systems, transit, airports, public schools, affordable housing and high-speed broadband, to name a few.
While Trump's plan is rumored to be more reliant on freeing up private investment in infrastructure to make up the $1 trillion total, the group of liberal lawmakers wants direct investment from the federal government. The plan calls the Republican agenda "a sham" because it doesn't put any new resources into infrastructure.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., promised the plan would be far more expansive than Trump's plan.
"The American people deserve to have a serious conversation about how to address these needs," he said in a statement. "To fund infrastructure projects, President Trump's relatively small and incoherent plan would use irresponsible tax gimmicks that benefit Wall Street at the expense of taxpayers. My colleagues and I know that Americans cannot afford to settle for this scam."
Infrastructure is widely seen as one of the few areas in which Republicans and Democrats will be willing to work together during Trump's administration. Spending on public projects is generally viewed favorably by the public, and lawmakers are eager to bring back federal funding to projects in their districts.
However, Trump's promised $1 trillion infrastructure package has yet to materialize as Congress continues to fight over healthcare reform. Infrastructure is said to be the third-highest priority for the administration, behind repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and passing a tax reform package. Trump has proposed rolling tax reform and infrastructure into a single bill.
Trump proposed $200 billion in infrastructure spending as a part of his fiscal 2018 budget released late last month, with little fanfare.
The one-upmanship on display from the progressive lawmakers might actually do some legitimate harm to Congress' ability to get an infrastructure package passed and signed by Trump, said Michael Sargent, an infrastructure analyst at The Heritage Foundation.
The entire discussion around infrastructure spending since the 2016 campaign has gotten out of control, he said. First, Hillary Clinton proposed spending $500 billion. Then Trump doubled it in his campaign promises. And now liberal lawmakers are trying to double Trump's proposal.
It's leading to a downward spiral in real policy ideas that instead leads to political grandstanding that harms negotiations, he said.
"It does do a disservice to actually looking at our infrastructure needs because everyone just thinks this money is free and because the American public likes the idea of spending on infrastructure," he said.
"This money has to come from somewhere. Either they're borrowing for it, or they're going to pay for it with $2 trillion of tax increases on businesses that will actually stymie the economy. … This could inflict some serious damage on the economy."
The progressive plan might serve as a marker as to where liberal lawmakers are when legislative negotiations start, but it doesn't have a chance of becoming a reality, Sargent said.
"It's a real grab bag of nonsense, essentially," he said.
Sargent said the goal of the progressives appears to be spending money to create jobs, which isn't necessary during the current time of low unemployment. Even liberal economists don't think direct government spending is necessary to create jobs at the moment, he said.
There are ways to improve the country's infrastructure, such as cutting regulations that slow projects or unleashing more private financing through public-private partnerships, but the progressive package appears to just be an attempt to put people into ineffective jobs, Sargent said.
"You could just pay people to go out and dig holes, or do a man-bun census in Brooklyn, but the point is to actually improve infrastructure," Sargent said.
"This doesn't appear to be that. It just seems to be a big jobs program," he added.
One aspect of the plan would appeal to Trump: an additional emphasis on employing local workers and buying American-made products.
The liberal lawmakers would require projects to hire local workers and would require an increased prevailing wage requirement. Prevailing wage is the average pay and benefits for workers in similar fields in a local area, and some states require projects funded with government money to pay the prevailing wage.
The plan also prioritizes the hiring of military veterans and demands "robust Buy America provisions in every federal procurement decision for labor and materials."
Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department at the AFL-CIO, represents 32 affiliated unions — a group of traditionally Democratic voters that leaned toward Trump during the 2016 election. He said the emphasis on local workers and American products won his support.
"We applaud the Congressional Progressive Caucus' commitment to our nation's transportation manufacturing sector by calling for strengthened and more defined Buy America rules," Wytkind said in a statement. "Expanding American job creation by maximizing public purchasing power must be included in any infrastructure plan."