January 9, 2018 / 5:56 PM / 7 months ago

Bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers and officials in talks on infrastructure spending

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators met with administration officials on Tuesday to discuss drafting legislation to spend $1 trillion on improving the country’s infrastructure, a goal that President Trump made a priority in the 2016 elections.

Passing an infrastructure bill in the Republican-controlled Congress to improve U.S. infrastructure like roads, airports, ports and railways, will likely require support from the Democratic party in the Senate where Republicans only have a slender majority.

Some Democrats have expressed a desire to see a bill passed, but mid-term congressional elections in November this year could make the politics of a bipartisan effort difficult.

Congress would need to find a way to fund an expensive infrastructure package and the cost could cause both Democrats and Republicans to oppose the legislation.

Many Republicans want to use private sector investment to finance infrastructure projects to avoid increasing the national debt but Democrats think that government money is necessary to produce such a large package.

In its quadrennial report on U.S. infrastructure in 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the country a “D” or failing grade for the state of its bridges, roads, dams, drinking water, ports, airports, railways and school buildings.

The ASCE said the U.S. currently needs to spend more than $2 trillion to upgrade its infrastructure in the next decade.

In international comparisons, the U.S. currently ranks 12th out of 138 countries for the quality of infrastructure, according to the World Economic Forum.

The Tuesday meeting was attended by a bipartisan group of members of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, White House National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, and special assistant to the president for infrastructure policy, D.J. Gribbin.

Trump, who spoke frequently about improving infrastructure in the United States during his 2016 election campaign, earlier on Tuesday in a separate meeting on immigration policy stated his desire to see an infrastructure package passed quickly.

“The Trump Administration looks forward to working with all members of Congress who want to join us in rebuilding America,” a White House official said.

Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that would oversee an infrastructure bill, said the meeting was an opportunity for the administration to explain its priorities.

“The meeting gave senators the chance to have a direct back-and-forth with administration leadership on their priorities,” Barrasso said in a statement.

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the committee, praised the meeting as an opportunity to work with the administration.

“While there is no shortage of issues on which the president and I disagree, the kind of large scale trillion dollar infrastructure investment that then-candidate Trump talked about is something that has the potential to elicit bipartisan support here in Congress,” Carper said in a statement.

Reporting by Ginger Gibson and Jeff Mason; editing by Clive McKeef

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