Democratic congressional leaders announced after a meeting with President Donald Trump and a group of high-ranking Democratic lawmakers that an agreement had been reached on the price tag for a potential infrastructure plan: $2 trillion.
There is still no guarantee a plan that both sides agree to will ultimately come together and so far it appears that many details of a potential plan — including how to pay for it — have not yet been worked out, but congressional Democratic leaders emerged from the meeting on Tuesday signaling optimism and describing it as a first step toward finding common ground, which has proven elusive between the President and congressional Democrats, many of whom are investigating his administration.
“It was a very constructive meeting,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said after the meeting. “We agreed on a number, which was very, very, good, $2 trillion for infrastructure. Originally, we had started a little lower and even the President was eager to push it up to $2 trillion. That is a very good thing.”
Referring to the question of how to pay for any plan, which could become the key sticking point in negotiations, Schumer added, “We told the President that we needed his ideas on funding … Where does he propose that we can fund this? Because certainly in the Senate, if we don’t have him on board it would be very hard to get the Senate to go along. We said we would meet in three weeks and he would present to us some of his ideas on funding. So this was a very, very good start and we hope it will go to a constructive conclusion.”
Both leaders said they’d agreed to meet again to discuss more details including how to pay for it.
Rebuilding America’s infrastructure has long been talked about as an area of potential cooperation between Democrats and the President since both have described investing in infrastructure as a priority. That’s no guarantee, however, that the two sides will agree on an infrastructure plan, especially since congressional Democrats and Trump rarely agree on anything.
“Our message is: Let’s work together,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Monday, adding, “The American people understand the need to build the infrastructure of our country. Let’s find a solution.”
When Pelosi and Schumer sat down with the President to talk infrastructure, they were joined by other members of House and Senate Democratic leadership and congressional Democrats whose committees would play a role if a deal came together.
Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, Debbie Stabenow, Ron Wyden, the top Democratic member on the Senate Finance Committee, and Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, were at the meeting, according to a Democratic source and list provided by the White House.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan, Richard Neal, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Peter DeFazio, the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, are also attending. DeFazio has been in contact with the Trump administration to discuss infrastructure “for some time now,” according to a committee aide.
The meeting was originally billed as just between the two Democratic leaders and Trump. The inclusion of other key Democrats suggested the possibility of a substantive discussion about infrastructure policy.
In addition to congressional Democrats and the President, a slate of administration officials also attended the meeting, according to a list of participants released by the White House.
Adviser to the President and Trump’s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, is expected to be there along with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, press secretary Sarah Sanders, Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to the President, and Shahira Knight, the director of the Office of Legislative Affairs. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and C.J. Mahoney, the deputy US Trade Representative, are also on the list of participants.
Ahead of the meeting, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas suggested that if everyone works together, compromise is feasible.
“As long as everyone views it as a collective win then it would be doable,” he said.
However, the meeting will take place against a backdrop of escalating hostilities between the administration and congressional Democrats. Following the release of the Mueller report, Democrats have argued that further investigation of the President is necessary and are also fighting to get a hold of the full, unredacted report, while the President contends that Democrats are overreaching and merely trying to score political points as they target his administration.
Durbin on Monday described the state of the relationship Democrats have with Trump as “adversarial in many aspects,” but said, “We hope it will be cooperative in this aspect.”
Past meetings between Trump and the top Democrats in Congress haven’t gone smoothly. Just a few months ago, Trump walked out of a meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, calling talks aimed at ending a government shutdown “a total waste of time.”
One potential sticking point in any negotiations for an infrastructure package is how much it will cost and how to pay for it.
Ahead of the meeting, Pelosi and Schumer sent a letter to the White House describing the need for infrastructure investment as “massive” and saying that need must be met with “substantial, new and real revenue.” They wrote that any proposal also needs to “include clean energy and resiliency priorities” and “must have strong Buy America, labor, and women, veteran, and minority-owned business protections.”
Pelosi told reporters earlier this month that she envisions a package that includes “at least $1 trillion” from the government.
“I’d like it to be closer to $2 trillion,” she added. “It’s how you leverage it. There are all kinds of ways to spend, to invest in it.”
Cornyn conceded on Monday that finding the money to pay for any plan is likely to be challenging and emphasized that it will be important to for everyone involved “to hold hands and jump together because otherwise it gets to be too politically divisive.”
“When you talk about infrastructure, people don’t want to talk about it, how do you pay for it? It is not easy,” he said. “We usually had a user fee system but that gets harder and harder to do — when people drive electric cars and people get better mileage — to generate the money. So, that’s a serious conversation that we’re going to have to have. My sense is we’ll have to hold hands and jump together because otherwise it gets to be too politically divisive.”
Last year the President unveiled an infrastructure plan of his own, but Democrats have criticized the proposal, arguing that it does not allocate sufficient funding.
The White House said that the plan would create $1.5 trillion for repairing and upgrading America’s infrastructure. Only $200 billion of that, however, would come from direct federal spending.
“I have pooh-poohed his $200 billion mini nothing of an infrastructure bill,” Pelosi told reporters earlier in the month, adding, “That is a formula that says let’s not and said we did. That does nothing. And I think that he probably knows that that was not a successful path to building an infrastructure from sea to shining sea.”
In another statement of Democratic priorities, Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Charlie Crist of Florida are spearheading a push for a resolution that similarly outlines a series of principles for infrastructure development.
The resolution lists conditions for any infrastructure plan, including a warning that it must “not weaken or repeal existing laws or rules protecting the air, water, or environment.”