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Published: Saturday, May 04, 2019 @ 10:15 PM
— It all seemed so optimistic. In the midst of the partisan battle over the Russia investigation, Democratic leaders went to the White House this past week to meet with President Trump about a deal on a major infrastructure package, as they emerged talking optimistically getting an agreement up two a $2 trillion dollar deal to build new roads, bridges, and other projects.
And then, the idea quickly got a flat tire, as the same issue arose that has derailed other big road and bridge bills in recent years - how to pay for it.
Even as the President gave the green light to more talks with Democrats, Republicans in Congress made clear they didn't see any common ground on how to finance such a plan, no matter what President Trump might want to agree to.
There were some GOP lawmakers who quickly jumped on board the idea of raising federal gas taxes in order to help finance a mammoth road building plan - like Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), a key ally of the President in the House.
But don't look for a vote on such a plan anytime soon - while there are some Republicans who would support a big infrastructure bill, the idea of voting to raise gas taxes is still a tricky subject for many lawmakers in both parties, especially with the 2020 elections not far away.
For Republicans who might have been thinking about supporting a gas tax increase, it didn't take long for a familiar array of more conservative groups to make clear that they weren't interested one bit in the idea of raising gas taxes as a method of funding a big highway bill.
"Congress has the money to pay for essential road and bridge projects, they simply need to spend the money they have more wisely," said the group Americans for Prosperity. "We urge lawmakers to reject calls to simply throw more money into a broken funding system."
Also throwing cold water on the idea of a gas tax increase was the top Republican in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
The opposition to an increase in the gasoline taxes at the federal level has been fairly constant from Republicans since 1993 - the last time the gas tax was increased, under President Clinton.
It's one reason that repeated calls by President Obama to build new infrastructure went nowhere, because there wasn't any political will to increase gas taxes to pay for it.
A few days after his meeting with Democrats, the President wasn't exactly sounding overly confident about brokering a deal on funding a $2 trillion plan.
There is nothing easy about a USA Infrastructure Plan, especially when our great Country has spent an astounding 7 trillion dollars in the Middle East over the last 19 years, but I am looking hard at a bipartisan plan of 1 to 2 trillion dollars. Badly needed!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 4, 2019
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer says the infrastructure meeting with President Trump was “very constructive”: “We agreed on a number … $2 trillion for infrastructure” pic.twitter.com/Q44na62CV8— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 30, 2019
Democrats were trying to ignore the obvious signs of GOP discontent as best they could, and push ahead with what might seem to be a regular kind of legislative effort on a highway bill.
"I look forward to continuing this critical conversation with the White House and House and Senate leadership in the coming weeks," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who has made clear to reporters again and again that he wants to move forward on a highway bill, in hopes of coming together with some kind of bipartisan agreement, at least on a plan to spend money which has already been brought in to the trust funds for highways and airports.
But the outlook seemed bleak for a sweeping plan.
"Infrastructure plan quickly runs aground," read the weekend headline in the Washington Post.
The two sides are slated to meet later this month about how to fund the plan - it's the riddle which has prevented action on a major highway bill for years.