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Trump, Democratic leaders find common ground: $2 trillion for infrastructure

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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., surrounded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats, talks with reporters after meeting with President Donald Trump about infrastructure at the White House on Tuesday. (AP/ Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders agreed Tuesday to work together on a $2 trillion infrastructure package, but put off for later the difficult question of how to pay for it.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said there was “good will in the meeting,”  a marked departure from the last meeting between Trump, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which ended with Trump walking out in a huff. Schumer said the two sides agreed that infrastructure investments create jobs and make the United States more competitive economically with the rest of the world.

Most importantly, Schumer said, “we agreed on a number.”

“Originally, we had started a little lower,” Schumer said. “Even the president was eager to push it up to $2 trillion, and that is a very good thing.”

Pelosi added, “We did come to one agreement: that the agreement would be big and bold.”

Pelosi and congressional Democrats had asked for the meeting with Trump to discuss launching an ambitious building program that’s a top priority for the party and has been a rare area of potential bipartisan accord with Republicans. Trump, too, has long promised a big infrastructure plan.

The dozen Democratic lawmakers in the meeting with the president called it a constructive start. They said Trump agreed that infrastructure investments should go beyond roads and bridges and include broadband, water systems and enhancements to the electrical grid.

Democrats also put the onus on Trump to come up with a funding source and said they would meet again in three weeks, when the president will present his ideas. The nation’s top business groups and labor unions support increasing the federal gasoline tax, currently 18.3 cents a gallon. It was last raised in 1993.

Infrastructure is seen as the one issue with the best chance for the two sides to work together this Congress — and even that isn’t given good odds for a fruitful ending.

The meeting played out against the backdrop of high tensions over escalating Democratic investigations following the release of  special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling. Lawmakers and the Republican president also have on eye on the 2020 elections, meaning every provision of an infrastructure package — including how to pay for it — will be made with that in mind.

Still, advocates for an infrastructure package boost see a narrow window for action.

“I think a deal can be had if everybody is willing to put their battle axes away for a period,” said former Republican Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, who served as chairman of the House’s transportation committee for six years.

A compromise could offer political benefits to both sides. Trump’s re-election prospects are tied to a strong economy that would get another boost from new road and bridge projects. House Democrats have passed an array of bills that have gone nowhere in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Pelosi has dozens of new Democratic House members who won in competitive districts, said Shuster, and “they need to be able to go home next year and say they’ve accomplished something.”

But the two sides also have some competing priorities that will complicate matters. The president and Republican leaders want to speed up the permitting process for building energy and transportation projects and that’s not on most Democratic lawmakers’ to-do lists. Democrats are looking for ways to pay for greater infrastructure spending without adding to the national debt, and that could mean higher fuel taxes.

Committees in both chambers of Congress have started to lay the groundwork for an infrastructure bill through hearings, with Democratic lawmakers hoping to have legislation ready for consideration by June or July.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will give every House lawmaker a chance to share their infrastructure priorities on Wednesday.

The infrastructure issue has aligned the nation’s top business groups and unions, a rarity in Washington. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has proposed increasing the federal fuel tax 5 cents a year for five years, then allowing it to increase with inflation.

So far this year, Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio and Virginia have enacted gas tax increases, although Virginia’s only applies to a portion of the state. Some 30 states have done so since 2013.

 

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The Nation

Love’s, its customers raise more than $3.75 million for children’s hospitals

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Love’s showed additional support for CMN Hospitals on National Coffee Day, which took place September 29-30 during the store campaign. To honor the day, all hot beverages were discounted to $1, with sales going to CMN Hospitals. (Courtesy: LOVE'S)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores and its customers raised more than $3.75 million for sick and injured children through its five-week store campaign to raise funds for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. In the 20th year of the campaign, the company surpassed its goal of $3.6 million and set a company record for the most money raised during a campaign.

“We are so thankful to our employees and customers who not only donate at our stores, but who also go out of their way to raise money for sick and injured children in creative ways,” said Jenny Love Meyer, vice president of communications for Love’s. “Each year, we enjoy seeing communities come together for this effort and we couldn’t be prouder to have raised over $3.75 million for this year’s campaign.”

From August 26-September 30, customers could purchase Miracle Balloons, round up to the nearest dollar at registers or pumps or participate in events like 5k runs or fishing tournaments to donate money to CMN Hospitals.

Love’s showed additional support for CMN Hospitals on National Coffee Day, which took place September 29-30 during the store campaign. To honor the day, all hot beverages were discounted to $1, with sales going to CMN Hospitals.

“We are excited about the results of this year’s Love’s fundraising campaign,” said John Lauck, president and CEO of CMN Hospitals. “Not only did 2019 mark a 20-year milestone of partnership between Love’s and CMN Hospitals but more exciting, Love’s also crossed $31 million in donations to help sick and injured children treated in our hospitals across the U.S.”

Of the 170 CMN Hospitals throughout North America, 107 benefit from Love’s annual campaign.

 

 

 

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The Nation

Average price of gallon of diesel increase half a cent

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The price for the week ending October 14 was 34.3 cents lower than the comparable week in 2018. (The Trucker file photo)

WASHINGTON — The average price of a gallon of on-highway diesel increase four tenths of one cent to $3.051 for the week ending October 14, according to the Energy Information Administration of the Department of Energy.

Normally posted on Monday of each week, the average price chart was released Tuesday because the federal government was closed Monday for the Columbus Day holiday.

All but two regions of the country posted increases led by a 1.9 cent increase in the Rocky Mountain states (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado).

The New England states (Maine, Vermont, Hew Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) was the only region showing a decline at five tenths of one cent.

The price for the week ending October 14 was 34.3 cents lower than the comparable week in 2018.

 

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The Nation

DeFazio asks IG to investigate reports of Chao’s conflicts of interest

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In requesting an investigation of Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Rep. Peter DeFazio cites newly-obtained information from a recent media report that suggested Chao used her office to give preferential treatment to organizations and projects in Kentucky where her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is currently seeking re-election. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is requesting an investigation into Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and her reported conflicts of interest.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., made the request in a letter to Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III.

The letter, sent October 11, cites newly-obtained information from a recent media report that suggested Chao used her office to give preferential treatment to organizations and projects in Kentucky where her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is currently seeking re-election.

Politico reported that 25% of Secretary Chao’s meetings with local officials between January 2017 and March 2018 were with individuals from Kentucky.

DeFazio said the report noted that requests for meetings with Chao are typically forwarded from McConnell’s office to Chao’s chief of staff, who previously worked on McConnell’s Senate campaign, DeFazio wrote.

The Office of the Secretary of Transportation took exception to DeFazio efforts.

DeFazio said the Politico report followed an earlier report that Chao had asked her chief of staff to serve as an intermediary between her office and McConnell’s office, and that he had helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on federal grants of particular significance to McConnell.

“These allegations were first raised by left wing advocacy groups and hashed out in the media, and the department has previously fully responded to them. They are politically motivated and intended to waste time. While the Department will always be cooperative and responsive to appropriate requests, DOT looks forward to a prompt and final resolution of these questions,” a DOT spokesman told The Trucker Tuesday.

“Allegations included the steering of discretionary grants to fund these projects,” DeFazio wrote.  “I would expect Secretary Chao to meet with individuals from her home state more regularly than other states, but the sheer volume of meetings with local officials from Kentucky when compared to meetings with local officials from the rest of the country creates an appearance of favoritism that is troubling.  Even more troubling is the fact that McConnell’s campaign touted the Politico article on social media saying, ‘Mitch McConnell is a Kentucky Asset.’”

DeFazio said news reports have also raised questions about Chao’s adherence to her federal ethics agreement in which she agreed to divest certain assets to prevent her personal finances from creating conflicts of interest.

In particular, it has been reported that the secretary retained stock in Vulcan Materials, a stone and asphalt producer, as opposed to accepting a cash payment for her stock options in the company, as provided for in her ethics agreement.

 

 

 

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