Democrats, Trump Agree to Aim for $2 Trillion Infrastructure Package

The two sides didn’t discuss how it would be paid for, and Capitol Hill Republicans are unlikely to go along

Democratic congressional leaders said President Trump agreed to aim for a $2 trillion infrastructure package in a White House meeting on Tuesday, though the two sides didn’t discuss how it would be paid for, and Capitol Hill Republicans are unlikely to go along.

In unusually positive comments about negotiations with Mr. Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said the meeting was productive and said they had agreed to return in three weeks to hear Mr. Trump’s ideas about how to pay for an infrastructure bill.

“There was goodwill in this meeting, and that was different than some of the other meetings that we’ve had,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mrs. Pelosi said the two sides had “come to one agreement: that the agreement would be big and bold.”

Republican lawmakers—who control the Senate—are unlikely to support a $2 trillion infrastructure bill. They have warned that a major new federal infrastructure program would increase the federal deficit and deepen local governments’ reliance on the federal government.

No Republicans were invited to Tuesday’s meeting, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) told reporters after Democrats outlined their wishes for an infrastructure deal on Monday that he didn’t expect a deal to happen. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said changing the tax code to pay for an infrastructure bill was a “nonstarter.”

A statement from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on the meeting didn’t mention any $2 trillion agreement and said the two sides would meet again to “discuss specific proposals and financing methods.”

Following the meeting, Mr. Schumer told reporters the president had agreed that a formula under which the federal government pays 20% of costs for a given project was too low, but that Mr. Trump didn’t agree to the government paying 80% of the costs.

In 2018, the White House pitched a plan in which cities and states would contribute at least 80% of the funding for infrastructure improvements, with 20% in federal funds.

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Mr. Trump told lawmakers he wanted the infrastructure money to be well spent, telling them he was impressed by the “beautiful walls” he had seen in China—”not a dent, no paint was chipped,” according to a person familiar with the discussion. Mr. Trump said U.S. highways, in contrast, were an embarrassment, and criticized the company that he said sells “dented walls.”

Mr. Schumer said the president didn’t raise the topic of congressional investigations into himself and his associates, whichMr. Trump has repeatedly railed againstin recent weeks.

“I believe we can do both at once,” Mr. Schumer said. “We can come up with some good ideas on infrastructure and we want to hear his ideas on funding, and the House and the Senate can proceed on its oversight responsibilities. The two are not mutually exclusive.”

Democrats said the president raised other issues during the meeting, including his eagerness for lawmakers to pass the revised trade deal among North American countries—the U.S., Mexico, and Canada—known as USMCA.

Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.) said that at times during the hourlong meeting, Mr. Trump strayed from the topic at hand to bring up trade, health care and immigration policy. Mr. Carper said the Mr. Trump suggested reviving a bill by Sens. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) and Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) to amend the Affordable Care Act to fund cost-sharing reductions subsidies, which Mr. Trump stopped paying in 2017.

“I certainly agree,” Mr. Carper said.

Lawmakers from both parties and Mr. Trump agree on the need for infrastructure investments but disagree on how to pay for it and what exactly would be included in such legislation. The topic of how to pay for infrastructure projects has stalled such legislation for years.

Democrats pressed Mr. Trump repeatedly on what types of revenue generation he would support, Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said, and the president declined to give specifics and instead invited the lawmakers to come back for a second meeting. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said Mr. Trump opposed changing the tax code.

“We left the hard part to be discussed later,” said Mr. Durbin.

Democrats’ optimism contrasted with pessimism from White House officials heading into the meeting.

Infrastructure Spending: One Big Item Where There Could be Progress in WashingtonInfrastructure Spending: One Big Item Where There Could be Progress in Washington

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with President Trump on Tuesday to discuss a major infrastructure bill. WSJ's Gerald F. Seib looks at the issues involved. Photos: Getty

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, a former congressman, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. Earlier at a conference in California, he cast doubt on the likelihood of an infrastructure package while Democrats are conducting oversight of Mr. Trump. Mr. Mulvaney said the refrain in the White House is: “Legislate or litigate.”

Mr. Mulvaney said one chief area of disagreement is that the White House wants environmental deregulation included in an infrastructure package, which it says would speed up new projects. Democrats oppose the deregulation out of concern for the environment.

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DJ Gribbin, Mr. Trump’s former senior White House infrastructure adviser, also sounded a pessimistic note about the feasibility of passing a $2 trillion infrastructure package. “The biggest challenge facing a national infrastructure plan is funding,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “A $2 trillion target likely dooms the effort.”

Democrats disagree internally on how to generate revenue for an infrastructure plan. Mr. Schumer won’t consider a proposal to raise the gas tax, unless Mr. Trump agrees to undo some of the 2017 tax cuts, a person close to the minority leader said. Mr. Schumer, along with several other Democrats, say a gas tax disproportionately hurts poor and working-class people.

Other Democrats, such as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.), say they would support increasing the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in more than 25 years, to pay for infrastructure projects.

An assessment from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2017 said the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure is harming its ability to compete in a global economy. It estimated the U.S. had an $836 billion backlog of highway and bridge capital needs.

Democrats have proposed ideas to Mr. Trump, only to see them shot down later. In September 2017, Democrats said they reached a deal with Mr. Trump to help young immigrants brought to the country illegally, only to have the White House recant the idea later when Republicans lawmakers protested.

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