The New York Times: Build He Won’t
Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist, is a white supremacist and purveyor of fake news. But the other day, in an interview with, um, The Hollywood Reporter, he sounded for a minute like a progressive economist. “I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan,” he declared. “With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything.”
Los Angeles Times: Trump's plan to spend on infrastructure leads companies to pitch their products as infrastructure
Gone are the days when federal infrastructure spending was measured in highways, bridges and ports.
Pittsburgh Business Times: How automated technology will change urban transportation forever
Look for new self-driving cars to operate in tandem in the coming years with the established ride-sharing model from Uber Technologies Inc. amid a major shift for transportation in cities.
McClatchy DC: House chairman: Trump favors privatizing air traffic control
A House committee chairman says President-elect Donald Trump likes the idea of spinning off air traffic control operations from the government and placing them under the control of a private, non-profit corporation chartered by Congress.
The Hill: Five things to know about Trump's infrastructure plan
Buzz is growing around President-elect Donald Trump's plans for a massive infrastructure package.
Politico: Trump's $1 trillion plan hits D.C. speed bumps
It was supposed to be a big, beautiful infrastructure bill. But President-elect Donald Trump’s pitch for a $1 trillion upgrade of the nation’s roads, bridges, tunnels and airports is already running into potholes as it meets reality in Washington.
Curbed: Getting behind Trump’s trillion-dollar transportation plan? Not so fast.
As President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team starts to make key nomination in Cabinet positions, nothing has been publicly announced about the country’s transportation future. But a few new details that have emerged about Trump’s so-called “infrastructure plan” are deeply troubling to advocates who were hoping it might fund forward-thinking, clean-energy transportation solutions.
Fast Company: Trump's Huge Infrastructure Plan Will Test His Management Chops
Of the many controversial campaign promises that President-elect Donald J. Trump is now faced with delivering, his infrastructure plan is so far attracting the most bipartisan support. To put it into action, though, he'll need a lot more than that.
Forbes: Donald Trump's Infrastructure Program Is Much Worse Than The Democrats' One, Oh Yes, Undoubtedly
One of the little amusements of this post election period, along with seeing all those special snowflake heads explode with outrage, is the insistence that America really doesn’t need a big infrastructure building program after all. Or at least, absolutely not the type that Donald Trump is proposing. Because, you know, that’s different and, well, that’s different.
Washington Post: Trump’s big infrastructure plan? It’s a trap.
As the White House official responsible for overseeing implementation of President Obama’s massive infrastructure initiative, the 2009 Recovery Act, I’ve got a simple message for Democrats who are embracing President-elect Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan: Don’t do it. It’s a trap. Backing Trump’s plan is a mistake in policy and political judgment they will regret, as did their Democratic predecessors who voted for Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts in 1981 and George W. Bush’s cuts in 2001.
Associated Press: After train crash, transit regulators targeting sleep apnea
Federal regulators are urging railroads across the country to test train operators for obstructive sleep apnea after the engineer in September’s deadly New Jersey commuter train crash was found to have the fatigue-inducing disorder.
Associated Press: NuTonomy to test self-driving cars in Boston
NuTonomy, a startup that makes driverless vehicles, says it will start testing its self-driving cars on public streets in Boston by the end of the year.
Washington Post: How to salvage Metro? Rewrite the compact, says influential D.C. business group
Almost everybody agrees Metro’s governance structure and finances are broken. But almost nobody agrees about the best way to fix them.
Herald Whig (Iowa): Technology drives transportation development
The future of transportation across the region is arriving at a pace quicker than many might think.
Cecil Daily: Will Trump make Maryland’s transportation great again?
While President-elect Donald Trump vowed to build a wall, Maryland lawmakers and officials are hopeful he will build up the state’s roads, tunnels and public transit.
KTVL (Oregon): Oregon Department of Transportation urging drivers to be prepared for weather
The Oregon Department of Transportation is urging people to make sure their car is prepared for winter. This includes having snow chains and knowing how to put them on.
By Brianna Gurciullo | 11/21/2016 05:40 AM EDT
With help from Lauren Gardner and Ben Weyl
AND THEY'RE OFF: The Obama administration only has 60 days to wrap up DOT rules and actions on drone use, vehicle technology and other high-profile issues before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. And when he does, unfinished regulations and actions — including those on automobile emissions and airline passenger protections — could be undone or at the very least placed on the back burner. Our Lauren Gardner has a full breakdown for Pros of what the White House may try to push out the door before Jan. 20.
On the rules list: The FRA has proposed a general requirement that railroads have two crew members on their trains. The rule could temper crew downsizing once positive train control is implemented widely. DOT is also expected to soon release a proposed rule on vehicle-to-vehicle communications and guidance on vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies. And, as we reported in MT late last week, proposed rules on cellphone calls mid-flight and drone operations over people are fast approaching.
Rules in danger: Environmental groups are bracing for Trump to take aim at fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles. And it's uncertain whether Trump's administration will follow through on the preliminary actions taken by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and the White House to protect airline travelers.
HAPPY MONDAY: Good morning and thanks for tuning in to POLITICO's Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Please send tips, feedback and, of course, song lyrics to email@example.com or @brigurciullo.
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, Morning Transportation won't publish on Thursday, Nov. 24 and Friday, Nov. 25. Our next Morning Transportation will publish on Monday, Nov. 28. Please continue to follow Pro Transportation issues here.
SHUSTER: TRUMP LIKES ATC PLAN: Trump "generally likes the idea" of separating air traffic control from the FAA and putting ATC responsibilities in the hands of a nonprofit corporation, House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster told The Associated Press . "We do need to sit down and put meat on the bones," Shuster told the AP. "I think in general he sees it as something that's positive and we need to work on it." Shuster, an early and consistent Trump backer, said he has talked to Trump "on a number of occasions." And Shuster said he and Shirley Ybarra, Trump's DOT transition head, have met up since Election Day.
Thune open to ideas: Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune told the AP that he thought the FAA has failed to make major changes to ATC, even though the agency has spent a significant chunk of money on the effort. "Congress has different options, and we will continue to explore them, but the case for changing the FAA's approach to air traffic control modernization has become stronger," Thune said.
Nelson's not so open: But the ranking member on Thune's committee, Sen. Bill Nelson, remains opposed to Shuster's plan. And in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee's leaders, Nelson "raised objections Friday to what he described as an attempt by House proponents of air traffic control privatization to include language in a defense policy bill that would effectively squelch military objections to the plan," the AP reports.
SCHUMER: DEMS CAN WORK WITH TRUMP ON INFRASTRUCTURE: Democratic lawmakers can see themselves collaborating with Trump on investing in infrastructure, says soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. "Surprisingly, on certain issues, candidate Trump voiced very progressive and populist opinions," Schumer said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," as Pro Financial Services' Patrick Temple-West reports. "For instance, getting rid of the carried interest loophole, changing our trade laws dramatically, a large infrastructure bill."
Schumer added: "I hope on the promises he's made to blue collar America on trade, on carried interest, on infrastructure, that he'll stick with them and work with us, even if it means breaking with the Republicans who have always opposed these things." (Trump tweeted Sunday: "I have always had a good relationship with Chuck Schumer. He is far smarter than Harry R and has the ability to get things done. Good news!")
SHOW US THE MONEY: Democratic leaders may be willing to negotiate with Trump, but both Democrats and Republicans want clarity on what Trump is proposing exactly and how he'll pay for it, as our Lauren Gardner reports . "Trump's advisers are so far floating the same kinds of financing schemes that Congress has batted around for years with little success, including proposals to lure private investors or reap a revenue windfall through an overhaul of the tax code," Lauren writes. "Key lawmakers say they're in the dark on how Trump's plan would work — with some conservatives simply hoping that his call for massive tax breaks will provide an economic jolt that makes the hard spending decisions easier."
DEM WHITE HOUSE VET SLAMS TRUMP'S INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN: A former aide in Bill Clinton's and President Barack Obama's administrations has warned Democrats against supporting Trump's infrastructure plan in its current form, saying their support would be a "mistake in policy and political judgment they will regret." Ronald Klain, who oversaw the implementation of Obama's stimulus and advised Hillary Clinton's campaign, calls Trump's plan a "trap" in a Washington Post op-ed . Klain writes that the Trump administration would offer tax credits to investors supporting projects expected to make a profit, which might already have started, thus making it less likely the plan would create many more jobs.
'A wholesale concession': Klain also warns that Democrats can expect the plan to include policy riders that will hurt construction worker unions and weaken environmental rules. Klain mentions that Steven Mnuchin, a Trump adviser, has said the transition team is "looking at" creating a national infrastructure bank. "But even with such an addition, the Trump plan would not be a reasonable compromise — acceptance of its huge tax breaks for construction investors and profits for contractors would be a wholesale concession," Klain writes.
DOT SECRETARY RUMOR MILL: Greg Hughes' name was floated in a briefing by the Eno Center for Transportation's Jeff Davis on Friday. Hughes, the speaker for Utah's house of representatives, was the first politician from the state to give Trump an endorsement, according to Davis. In a 2015 agreement Hughes negotiated, Utah hiked its gas tax by 5 cents and indexed it to inflation. Hughes previously served as the chairman of the Utah Transit Authority's board.
TRUMP MEETS WITH EISENBERG: Among the slew of guests at Trump's golf club in Bedminster, N.J., this weekend was Lew Eisenberg, the RNC finance chairman and former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's board of commissioners. Trump, Pence and Eisenberg "discussed plans for America First initiatives, bringing Made in America manufacturing to the forefront and improving infrastructure," according to a readout from the transition team.
... AND SHANNON: Trump and Pence also met with T.W. Shannon, the former speaker of Oklahoma's house of representatives, and they talked about "transportation, infrastructure and issues relating to Western land usage," according to a readout.
THIS WEEK: The Trump transition is expected to announce domestic policy agency landing teams on Tuesday, including for DOT. (h/t POLITICO Pro Transition 2017)
AFTER HOBOKEN REVELATION, SENATORS WRITE TO FRA: A group of Democratic senators from New York and New Jersey want FRA to "utilize the rulemaking process, safety advisories, and other tools" to prevent rail accidents caused by worker health problems such as steel apnea. The letter from Sens. Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker and Bob Menendez followed an Associated Press report that the engineer involved in the New Jersey Transit Hoboken crash was diagnosed with sleep apnea after the accident and investigators were looking into whether his condition was the cause. FRA doesn't mandate comprehensive medical tests for safety-critical rail workers, as our Lauren Gardner reports for Pros. A spokesman for FRA said the agency plans to soon release a safety advisory that'll "push railroads to address worker fatigue, and to accelerate their installation of inward- and outward-facing cameras."
DIAZ-BALART: CUBA REGS TO BE UNDONE 'PRONTO': President Barack Obama's steps to normalize relations with Cuba may not last long under a Trump administration, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, an outspoken critic of lifting the embargo, said on Thursday. Asked which Cuba policies he expected the Trump administration to reverse, Diaz-Balart replied: "All of them." "All of these things that the president has done as unilateral concessions to the Castro regime, the days are numbered to all of those," Diaz-Balart told reporters. "I expect it to happen pronto."
Even flights? Pushed on the idea that rolling back flights could prove difficult, given that commercial flights have already started, the Florida Republican said it would be "very easy," given that "the law states very clearly that tourism is illegal." And on the idea that these flights are for reasons other than tourism? "All you have to do is with a wink and a nod say, 'Oh, I'm going there to dance salsa, smoke cigars and drink rum on the beach, but I'm doing it as a religious spiritual endeavor," Diaz-Balart said. "So you just literally have to check off a box. The next administration is going to follow the law. And that's all that this takes."
DOT TENTATIVELY DENIES AMERICAN-QANTAS PLAN: DOT has made a preliminary decision to reject American Airlines and Qantas Airways' petition to set prices for their services together and share costs and revenues on flights between Australia and New Zealand and the United States. "Based on its analysis, DOT tentatively found that the expanded alliance would create a potentially anticompetitive environment given the scale of the resulting joint business, which would account for approximately 60% of seats between the U.S. and Australia," DOT said in a release Friday. "DOT also noted that consumers would have few remaining competitive options because the U.S.-Australia/New Zealand markets are not well served by alternative routings over third countries." See DOT's order to show cause here.
PORTS SEND SUGGESTIONS TO TRUMP: The American Association of Port Authorities sent policy recommendations Friday to the Trump transition team. AAPA outlined ways it says the Trump administration can help "eliminate bottlenecks and expand capacity through landside investments," "modernize and fully maintain federal navigation channels through waterside investments," "secure America's ports and border" and "enhance the environment and build resilience." The entire document is here.
SLICE OF PI: "Seeing Machines, which makes a technology to prevent truck accidents by distracted and tired drivers, hired Washington communications firm Stratacomm to help raise its profile in North America," our friends at POLITICO Influence report.
SHIFTING GEARS: President Barack Obama announced Friday that he'll re-nominate Jeffrey Moreland to Amtrak's board of directors. Moreland now serves as vice chairman and previously worked for BNSF. Obama is also nominating Seth Harris to the board. Harris served as deputy secretary of labor from 2009 to 2014 and as acting secretary of labor for part of 2013. He is currently counsel for Dentons' public policy and regulation practice as well as the employment and labor practice.
In the office of Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Brianna Puccini is now communications director, according to POLITICO Playbook. Chanse Jones has taken Puccini's place as press secretary.
— "Rescuers finish search of Indian train wreck, 133 dead." The Associated Press.
— "Startup to test self-driving cars in Boston." The Wall Street Journal.
— "California's bullet train authority decides to buy American after all." Los Angeles Times.
— "Volkswagen to cut 30,000 jobs." Reuters.
— "4 killed in crash of air-ambulance flight in northern Nevada." The Associated Press.
— "Bus service to BWI could be discontinued." The Washington Post.
— "Your Thanksgiving airport slog is about to get a little better." Bloomberg.
— "Wave of drones hits 'Game of Thrones', says G4S." Financial Times.
THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 18 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 312 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 1,412 days.
THE DAY AHEAD:
Nothing on our radar for today.
Did we miss an event? Let MT know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stories from POLITICO Pro
White House eyes endgame for DOT rules amid uncertain future Back
By Lauren Gardner | 11/18/2016 05:43 PM EDT
A handful of DOT rules and actions — including on drones and autos — may move across the finish line in the waning days of the Obama administration, as officials weigh which issues they want to try to leave their mark on.
A DOT spokeswoman didn't comment on the department's regulatory posture over the next 60 days. But a regulatory update released Nov. 17 gives the best indication of which rules the White House is eyeing to get out the door before Trump enters the Oval Office Jan. 20.
That includes two rules that had long already been expected to be pushed through before the end of the year — one related to vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and one related to operating drones over crowds.
But it also includes a more political rule, requiring the Federal Railroad Administration to set minimum requirements for train crew size. No requirement currently exists, and the agency proposed generally mandating railroads to keep two crew members on board their trains. It is projected for release in January.
Labor groups back the effort, but the Association of American Railroads has urged regulators to withdraw it, arguing that existing data don't prove single-person crews are unsafe. The rule is also seen as a way for the feds to blunt business decisions to downsize crews once positive train control is broadly implemented.
While AAR has acknowledged that possibility, it maintains its members have no plans to do so anytime soon.
The administration also anticipates proposing in the next two months several high-profile rules, the futures of which are uncertain in the Trump administration given what little is known about his positions.
On deck for release this month is a proposed rule that's expected to mandate vehicle-to-vehicle equipment in all new cars. A separate interim guidance document is also in the works to spell out how owners and operators of transportation systems may deploy vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies that allow cars to communicate with fixtures like traffic lights. Both items have been sitting at OMB for review since last winter.
Proposals to likely prohibit cellphone calls on commercial flights and to set parameters for allowing drone flights over people are also expected to surface by the end of the year.
But other pending rules and actions may be endangered once Trump takes office — chief among them ongoing regulatory efforts to to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the auto sector and boost protections for airline passengers.
Environmentalists are girding for Trump to dismantle Obama's regulatory policies on climate change, and fuel economy standards for light-duty cars and trucks are no exception.
Automakers have already called on the transition team to soften the rules for vehicles that will be manufactured for model years 2022 through 2025 as part of the review process already required for those years, when the current requirements will become much more stringent.
And, it's unclear whether the next DOT secretary will build on a recent effort rolled out by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and the White House intended to ensure travelers are provided comprehensive information about their airline options.
While the airline consumer push contained some final rules a Trump DOT would have to jump through regulatory hoops to undo, it also included some preliminary actions — such as a request for comments on whether DOT should police airlines that refuse to share their fare and scheduling data with online travel sites — that could get moved to the back burner.
There's also a slim possibility Foxx's DOT may leave some legal work for his successor to carry out — or walk back.
Government lawyers have until mid-December to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on a federal appeals court's ruling that struck down the ability of Amtrak and FRA to together set service quality standards. Most Amtrak trains share tracks with freight railroads, and while passenger trains are supposed to get first dibs on the rails, delays still occur — though Amtrak advocates and freight carriers often spar over who precisely is to blame.
The legal drama surrounding the performance metrics — which Amtrak and FRA proposed in 2010 based on a congressional mandate — has already made its way to the high court once. The justices ruled that Amtrak is a governmental entity that can write rules but left unanswered other constitutional questions, which the lower court answered in freight railroads' favor in April.
Lawyers tracking the issue say the election results will likely make DOT rethink petitioning the Supreme Court, given the unknowns of whether and how Justice Department attorneys would brief and argue the case once Trump's in charge. That means the issue of how to measure service quality at Amtrak could languish unless Congress steps in with a legislative fix.
"DOT does not have the necessary tools or authorities to make a meaningful difference, and I do not see a Trump administration advocating for Amtrak," said Katie Thomson, a former department counsel for Foxx and his predecessor, Ray LaHood.
The Surface Transportation Board stepped in this year and finalized a rule defining on-time performance for passenger trains based on their punctuality at all stops along a route. But freight railroads sued the board, setting up a court battle next year at a time when Trump will be able to wield considerable influence over STB's makeup.
Since STB is an independent agency, its own lawyers can represent its interests in court. But DOJ attorneys usually work in tandem with them on the defense, so it remains to be seen how federal counsel will approach the case with Trump in the West Wing.
Schumer lays out where Democrats can work with Trump Back
By Patrick Temple-West | 11/20/2016 09:03 AM EDT
Infrastructure, trade and closing the "carried interest" tax loophole are three areas where Democrats can work with President-elect Donald Trump on a legislation, Sen. Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate minority leader, said Sunday.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press with Chuck Todd," Schumer said Democrats will not unilaterally oppose legislation Trump sponsors. But neither will Democrats compromise "for the sake of working with him," Schumer said.
"Surprisingly, on certain issues, candidate Trump voiced very progressive and populist opinions," Schumer said. "For instance, getting rid of the carried interest loophole, changing our trade laws dramatically, a large infrastructure bill."
"I hope on the promises he's made to blue collar America on trade, on carried interest, on infrastructure, that he'll stick with them and work with us, even if it means breaking with the Republicans who have always opposed these things," he said.
But Schumer said Democrats will fight to protect legislation President Barack Obama signed but that Trump has said he wants to dismantle.
"We're not going to repeal or help him repeal Obamacare," Schumer said. "We are not going to roll back Dodd-Frank," the 2010 law that imposed financial regulations on Wall Street after the 2008-09 crisis.
"We're not going to help him build his wall," Schumer said of the president-elect's proposed border wall with Mexico. "We have a comprehensive immigration reform bill that builds in much tougher border security and it had bipartisan support than he's ever called for."
Asked about Trump's initial cabinet nominees, Schumer declined to say whether he will oppose or support them. Schumer did raise concerns with Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who Trump picked to be national security adviser — specifically regarding Flynn's suggestion that fearing Muslims is rational.
"I'd certainly give him a chance to explain it, but it's very, very troubling," Schumer said.
Trump's $1 trillion plan hits D.C. speed bumps Back
By Lauren Gardner | 11/20/2016 07:07 AM EDT
It was supposed to be a big, beautiful infrastructure bill. But President-elect Donald Trump's pitch for a $1 trillion upgrade of the nation's roads, bridges, tunnels and airports is already running into potholes as it meets reality in Washington.
The overwhelming sticking point, as always, is how to pay for it.
Trump's advisers are so far floating the same kinds of financing schemes that Congress has batted around for years with little success, including proposals to lure private investors or reap a revenue windfall through an overhaul of the tax code. Key lawmakers say they're in the dark on how Trump's plan would work — with some conservatives simply hoping that his call for massive tax breaks will provide an economic jolt that makes the hard spending decisions easier.
Democrats, meanwhile, are split on whether to cooperate with Trump on his plan. Hillary Clinton adviser Ron Klain denounced it Friday as a "trap" that would provide "a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors" without necessarily spurring any new infrastructure spending.
Even congressional Republicans who have long championed spending on transportation projects say they don't yet know the details of Trump's 10-year proposal, which the president-elect has vowed will "put millions of our people to work" while making U.S. infrastructure "second to none."
"Look, we don't have the details," House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) told POLITICO. "We're working very closely with his transition team and hopefully with the new department head to figure out how we're going to pay for it. It's got to be fiscally responsible."
A trillion dollars is "a big number," said Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), adding that a tax overhaul could be one promising way to pay for it. "I think it's going to come down to figuring out just actually what's achievable."
"I think this is critical, something that could draw us together," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who hoped that the infrastructure plan would also include an expansion of broadband internet service. But asked whether a Republican Congress would approve it, she said: "Not if it's not paid for."
"To just add it to the national debt, I don't think President-elect Trump or members of the Republican Conference would support that," said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a member of the House Transportation Committee and the conservative Freedom Caucus.
Some Democratic lawmakers were more optimistic than others than any big infrastructure plan will get through Congress, even with a GOP president pushing it.
"The country needs it," said New York Democratic Rep. José Serrano, who sits on the Appropriations Committee. But he said Trump "should be telling us how he's going to get it through a Congress that doesn't want to spend $1.50 on anything."
Trump has touted his infrastructure plan as a top priority — even mentioning it in his election-night victory speech — raising expectations that it will have a prime place in the agenda for his first 100 days. His senior adviser Steve Bannon has portrayed it as a massive borrow-and-spending binge that would make conservatives "go crazy," telling The Hollywood Reporter: "With negative interest rates throughout the world, it's the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. ... We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks."
But despite its eye-popping $1 trillion price tag, it's unclear to infrastructure finance experts whether his plan would involve much, or even any, additional federal spending on top of the five-year, $305 billion transportation bill that Congress approved last year.
Trump advisers walking in and out of Trump Tower in the past week have floated some ideas on how to pay for the plan, which has also seemed to morph day-by-day.
The Heritage Foundation's Stephen Moore, one of Trump's tax advisers, pitched GOP lawmakers Tuesday on a one-time 10 percent tax on offshore business income, the kind of tax break that Republicans maintain would encourage companies to bring their overseas earnings back to the U.S.
But by Wednesday morning, Steven Mnuchin, a leading contender for Treasury secretary, told reporters the transition team was "looking at the creation of an infrastructure bank," a pot of money that would use federal money to attract state and private dollars to fund projects. It's hardly a new idea in transportation circles — but Trump's presidential campaign had blasted Clinton for proposing the same idea, saying such a bank would be "controlled by politicians and bureaucrats in Washington D.C."
President Barack Obama has also repeatedly proposed an infrastructure bank, though that idea went nowhere in Congress.
Trump's campaign also called for setting up "public-private partnerships," another means of encouraging private investors to put their money into infrastructure. In one version, the investors would get tax credits to build a project and could recoup their money by charging fees for its use, such as tolls. But as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote Saturday, that would be problematic for types of infrastructure that don't generate revenue streams: "Toll roads are not the main thing we need right now; what about sewage systems, making up for deferred maintenance, and so on?"
Whatever the financing mechanism, some Republicans say Trump may be the one to sell it.
"His business acumen is going to give him a better handle on the fiscal reality than we've had heretofore," said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).
In fact, policy experts from both sides of the aisle have faulted Trump's broad tax and spending agenda for not even remotely adding up. They say the tax cuts he's proposed would add $10 trillion to the national debt in the coming decade, while his pledge to trim the debt to zero would require savage cuts to federal spending.
But Meadows said he hopes Trump's tax cuts would bring a surge in revenue.
"That stimulus provides an economic boom that will get us back to a 4, 4.5-percent GDP growth," he said. "That will actually make some of these questions a lot easier to answer than at an anemic 2.2-to-maybe-2.8 GDP."
Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) echoed the kind of infrastructure-spending-equals-jobs argument that conservatives rejected when Obama was pushing his $832 billion stimulus through a Democratic Congress nearly eight years ago.
"The federal government will get money back because, as I said, these are good-paying jobs," Barletta said. "You're going to be putting people to work. They're going to be paying taxes. That money is going to come back to Washington."
But beyond wide support for the idea of infrastructure spending, Republicans' unanimity breaks down quickly — especially when it comes to using repatriated money from corporations' overseas earnings. House Ways and Means Committee Republicans such as Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas and Dave Reichert of Washington state have indicated they're lukewarm at best to that idea, saying repatriation revenues should go to lowering tax rates instead.
The difference this time, some lawmakers and lobbyists say, is the push infrastructure will be getting from an emboldened President Trump. In contrast, Obama has mostly chosen to stay out of the long-term funding debate in hopes Congress would come to a decision.
"We've had zero leadership coming from the current administration," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who leads the Appropriations Subcommittee for Department of Transportation spending. "No suggestions, no ideas — they've just been kind of like pretending it's not an issue."
Obama has proposed some funding ideas, but lawmakers dismissed them as either unrealistic or gimmicky, as in his proposal to use savings from a hoped-for drawdown of troops overseas. Republicans ridiculed the proposal for a $10.25-a-barrel oil tax that he included in his last budget.
Democrats find a variety of flaws in Trump's proposal, especially the reliance on public-private partnerships.
Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Transportation Committee, said those partnerships won't do much for the 143,000 bridges that need work nationwide "unless you're going to toll 143,000 bridges." He said the same goes for the interstate highways "unless you're going to start massive tolling of already constructed infrastructure to reconstruct it."
"So it'll help with individual sorts of big projects, but it's not any kind of cure-all, and it certainly isn't going to get the big bang that Trump has talked about in infrastructure," DeFazio said.
DeFazio said he would propose indexing the gasoline tax to inflation, so that the rate would rise over time, or implementing a wholesale barrel tax on oil. "If they want to put people to work quickly and they want a big bang in infrastructure, they need real money," he said.
At least one House Republican agrees: Former Transportation Chairman Don Young of Alaska said he would also hike the gas tax to pay for transportation projects, and he faulted both his own party and Obama for blocking it in past years.
"There's no pie in the sky, no magic wand," Young said. "We have to pay for it."
If Republicans settle on a plan, Democrats might be the key to passing it, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in an interview.
"There was partisan hostility to anything President Obama wanted from the Republican side," Whitehouse said. "So with President Trump supporting it and with Democrats supporting it, I think there's the prospect of a filibuster-proof majority emerging around that bill."
But Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he's not yet ready to sign onto Trump's plan — whatever it turns out to be.
"I haven't seen it, and nobody's seen it," Leahy said. "A lot of his plans seem to change day by day. I'll wait till I see it."
Bernie Becker, Brianna Gurciullo, Jennifer Scholtes and Tanya Snyder contributed to this report.
Senators urge FRA to flex muscle on health screenings Back
By Lauren Gardner | 11/18/2016 12:15 PM EDT
Three New Jersey and New York senators called on FRA today to use its rulemaking authority and "other tools" to prevent rail accidents attributable to health problems like sleep apnea.
The letter from Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker and Bob Menendez comes days after the AP reported that U.S. officials are investigating whether an engineer's sleep apnea, which was diagnosed post-crash, caused him to smash his New Jersey Transit train into Hoboken Terminal in September, killing a woman on the platform.
"It is imperative that the FRA take immediate and deliberate action should the investigation reveal any screening or health education deficits that could have prevented the tragic incident in New Jersey," they wrote.
"If necessary, we urge the FRA to utilize the rulemaking process, safety advisories, and other tools to inform and hold rail operators accountable in order to prevent these tragedies in the future," they added.
FRA doesn't require comprehensive medical screening for safety-critical rail workers. While some railroads have their own testing programs and go well beyond federal standards, the lack of a mandate for exams focused on detecting conditions like sleep apnea has come under scrutiny in recent years.
A fatal Christmastime commuter train crash in New York in 2013 was later attributed to the operator's undiagnosed severe obstructive sleep apnea.
FRA is collaborating with FMCSA on a potential proposal to require screening and treatment for commercial drivers and rail workers with obstructive sleep apnea.
An FRA spokesman said Wednesday the agency will soon release a safety advisory to "push railroads to address worker fatigue, and to accelerate their installation of inward- and outward-facing cameras."