Five Cabinet members push infrastructure before Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee

Updated Mar 31, 2018
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

The Trump administration sent five Cabinet secretaries — Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — to a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on March 13 to talk up its infrastructure proposals, but they didn’t seem to be enough to get the committee to move on the $1.5 trillion plan, KPBS reports.

Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said he was hopeful that “both sides can come together on this and it can happen this year.”

The Trump plan commits $200 billion in federal funding over 10 years to stimulate state and local spending and private investment, but it is still unclear where that money will come from. Half of the funding, $100 billion, would be used as incentives to entice cities, counties, and states to raise at least 80 percent of the infrastructure costs themselves, but it is unclear where the states will find that money.

“How are you gonna get members of the Senate to vote for the tax revenue in order to pay for these plans?” asked Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, according to the news agency. “We can’t toll our way out,” he said, adding that the recently enacted tax cut should be changed from a 21-percent corporate rate to 25 percent to help pay for infrastructure, but most Republicans don’t agree.

According to KPBS, Chao said that, with some estimates as high as $4 trillion to repair the nation’s roads, bridges, ports, and airports, “We cannot address a challenge of this magnitude with federal resources alone, or by borrowing.” She added that it was up to state and local governments to figure out where their share of the funds would come from, as the federal government only owns 10 percent of the nation’s roads and bridges. Several states have already addressed the issue by raising their gas taxes and/or instituting new tolls.

The news agency reports that Chao addressed criticism that the administration only released an outline of an infrastructure plan, saying the administration sent Congress a list of principles rather than specific legislation in “an open show of cooperation,” and that the administration wants to work with Congress “and not be prescriptive” with specific legislative language, according to the news agency. Plus, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said one of the key principles for the administration was removing regulatory barriers to speed up approval of construction projects, adding that “it requires projects to navigate a huge maze of federal regulations.”