Democrats and President Trump agree to forge ahead with $2 trillion infrastructure package

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Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft testifies during the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation hearing in March, 2018. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Kelley.

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft testifies during the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation hearing in March, 2018. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Kelley.

The Democrats and President Trump emerged from a meeting on Tuesday saying they agreed to go “big and bold” in pursuit of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan, though they did not discuss how the package would be funded.

Republican lawmakers — who control the Senate and were not invited to the meeting — are unlikely to support a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, and have warned that a major new federal infrastructure program would increase the federal deficit and deepen local governments’ reliance on the federal government, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Still, the National Marine Manufacturers Association expressed optimism at the meeting’s outcome, saying that “crumbling blue-green infrastructure jeopardizes economic contributions of the outdoor recreation economy.”

“With a D+ rating from America's top engineers, the deterioration of our infrastructure is jeopardizing the economic contribution of industries that rely on access to roads, bridges, and waterways,” said Nicole Vasilaros, NMMA senior vice president of government and legal affairs, in a statement issued Tuesday night.

Vasilaros emphasized the 35,000 businesses and 691,000 jobs supported by the recreational marine industry, and the $734 billion that the overall outdoor recreation economy contributes to the gross economic output.

“Without structurally sound recreation infrastructure — including adequate boat ramps, dredging projects, and broadband access in federally managed lands and waters — these economic contributions are at risk,” said Vasilaros.

They are among other manufacturing advocates pushing for upgrades to the nation’s crumbling system.

Alliance for American Manufacturing president Scott Paul and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., hosted a press call April 10 about a new Alliance for American Manufacturing poll showing that voters from both parties say rebuilding America’s roads, bridges and water systems are a top priority, according to Industry Today.

An op-ed in The Hill written by Paul earlier this month called on the president to make good on his promise to “go bigger” on an infrastructure package, considered one of the highest priorities among American businesses.

“Rebuilding America is one of the very few opportunities for bipartisan collaboration,” wrote Paul. “Voter attitudes, as measured by the bipartisan polling duo of Mark Mellman and Bill McInturff, show overwhelming support for this kind of federal project. What’s more, the Mellman-McInturff poll found deep-seated support for ‘Buy America’ domestic procurement policies attached to federal infrastructure spending.”

A public fed up with potholes, failing bridges and flailing transit systems overwhelmingly has said in surveys that it supports the investment, according to the Washington Post, but Congress has yet to come up with a funding solution; congressional leaders said they will return to the White House in three weeks to determine how to pay for it.

“Probably the largest chunk would go to roads, bridges, transit, but we’re also going to do waste water, harbors, [and] probably include airports,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., told the Post.

Trump and Democratic leaders “pulled a surprise” by reaching the deal to pursue the package despite rising tensions over congressional probes and debates over impeachment, wrote The Hill.

“How this could be achieved in a fiscally responsible way remains the biggest question,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and a close Trump ally, told The Hill. “Traditional methods for this increased investment would meet substantial pushback.”

“The devil is always in the details,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., the top Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing transportation spending.

However, pressure is mounting from several entities. The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities held a hearing about languishing laboratories that cannot support the workforce and infrastructure to run at their optimal level, the Consortium for Ocean Leadership reported April 1. Testimony came from one U.S. Army Corps of Engineers witness and a Naval Research Laboratory witness.

That, in turn, hinders the development of new innovations and technologies that support military operations.

The NMMA said it will push for “blue-green infrastructure” title to be included in the package.

“As discussions on this critical issue continue, we urge lawmakers to address the needs of blue-green infrastructure – specifically, our nation's public lands and waters, which are so critical to the recreational boating industry – by incorporating a 'Recreation Title' in any broader legislative proposal,” said Vasilaros.

"Today's conversation is the first step of a broader infrastructure discussion that will hopefully be inclusive of not only roads, bridges, and buildings but rehabilitation of our blue-green infrastructure,” said Vasilaros. “Fixing our nation's infrastructure is not only a priority for recreational boaters, but for the broader economy as well."

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