WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump has talked about the "necessity" of a massive infrastructure since he became a presidential candidate in 2015, but his latest budget plan offers Congress the kind of vague proposal that has left them confused and stymied before.
The administration is asking lawmakers for $200 billion as an initial payment toward the president's goal -- up to $1.5 trillion from $1 trillion -- for a sweeping project to upgrade the country's roads, airports, bridges, tunnels, seaports and broadband networks. But senior officials say they won't lay out a plan for projects in states Trump would like to see receive any of those dollars.
"We will provide less specifics this year than we have in the past, in part because we really do want to work with Congress on this," a senior administration official told reporters. "We are open to how they (would) construct a package that the president could sign."
Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought said administration officials are "totally ready and willing to talk with Congress about how to ensure that there's additional dollars in the Federal (Highway) Trust Fund, and to put forward additional $200 billion in new investment."
The administration's $200 billion fiscal 2020 request is needed, Vought said, "to make sure that it's not just a surface transportation bill -- that when we need money for broadband or other infrastructure, that is also something that we can pursue."
Trump campaigned on a $1 trillion infrastructure overhaul, again labeling it a top agenda item for 2019 last month during his first State of the Union address.
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"Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure," he said during his State of the Union address on Feb. 5. "I know that the Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill, and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting edge industries of the future. This is not an option. This is a necessity."
Kent Smetters, an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said at first glance the fiscal 2020 plan "looks like a repeat" of a plan the White House sent lawmakers last year based on turning $200 billion in federal funds into $1.5 trillion with an infusion of state and private-sector funds. "My initial read is not much has changed," he said, adding an analysis of the White House's 2019 plan appears still accurate.
"Based on past evidence, much of the new federal aid would lead to state and local governments increasing total infrastructure investment by less than the value of the aid itself," according to that Wharton analysis. "We estimate that total new infrastructure investment would increase between $20 billion to $230 billion, including the $200 billion federal investment. There will be little to no impact on the economy."
In its last report on the subject, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a D plus score, writing in a report that "deteriorating infrastructure is impeding our ability to compete in the thriving global economy, and improvements are necessary to ensure our country is built for the future."