Washington Waves
Washington Waves

White House Infrastructure Meeting Implodes

Washington, D.C.—Even after a much-anticipated White House meeting on funding a $2-trillion infrastructure package imploded, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats remain committed to an “historic infrastructure package that is big, bold and bipartisan.”

“Our outstanding committee chairs will continue to work relentlessly on bold, transformative infrastructure solutions that will create good-paying jobs, regardless of the president’s behavior,” Pelosi stated in a letter to her fellow House Democrats.

Her task no doubt will be daunting as congressional Democrats were counting on President Donald Trump to come up with how to fund such a massive package and help push it through Congress.

Instead, he used the White House meeting with Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other key Democrats to announce he will not work with them as long as they continue their investigations in the wake of the Mueller report.

“So get these phony investigations over with,” he said at an unscheduled Rose Garden event after singling out a comment by Pelosi that he was engaged in a cover-up.

After returning to the Capitol, Pelosi said Trump took a pass, possibly because he “couldn’t match the greatness of the challenge that we have.”

Schumer said watching what happened at the White House “would make your jaw drop” and accused Trump of looking for an excuse not to work on an infrastructure deal.

While certainly unexpected and dramatic even for such a polarized political time, that development was not the first sign to suggest infrastructure—the go-to topic for anyone needing an example of a potential bipartisan deal—was in deep trouble.

No one had stepped up and taken the lead on funding, and on the evening before the meeting Trump sent Pelosi and Schumer a letter urging them to wait on infrastructure until Congress passes the trade deal with Mexico and Canada.

He also suggested the best legislative vehicle to use for infrastructure would be the reauthorization of the “essentially bankrupt” highway trust fund, whose current authorization does not expire until September 2020.

Even some of the most ardent supporters of a major infrastructure proposal have predicted a deal must be struck this year to have a strong chance of passage.

Budget Negotiations

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) shared a cautiously optimistic report concerning negotiations on a crucial agreement that could end up covering fiscal year 2020 appropriations, a two-year agreement on budget caps and possibly even the debt limit.

When pressed on President Trump’s sometimes unexpected responses, McConnell said he explained to the president at a recent private meeting that a negotiated agreement with Democrats would be better than arguing back and forth over the a length of a continuing resolution or triggering a sequester that would hit the Pentagon with a $71 billion cut at the end of the year.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also sounded upbeat when asked about the talks.

Such an agreement would allow the ongoing appropriations process to follow what McConnell described as a regular order.

As the early spending bills begin to advance in the Democratic-controlled House, key Republicans repeatedly have warned that entire process could be upended without such an agreement.

Supporters of full utilization of annual Harbor Maintenance Tax collections and access to the remaining balance in the trust fund have urged legislative leaders to include such provisions in any budget agreement.

An effort to include HMT provisions in a much-delayed disaster supplemental bill continues to come up empty.

“I don’t think the harbor maintenance fund will be in the bill,” Schumer told reporters.

Corps Appropriations

The House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that includes $7.36 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a $357 million hike above the current fiscal year’s level and $2.53 billion above the president’s budget request.

Members of the waterways industry have welcomed that record level of funding for the Corps.

Other key figures for the agency in the fiscal year 2020 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies bill included $135 million for Investigations, $2.34 billion for Construction and $3.92 billion for Operation and Maintenance.

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund projects would receive $1.697 billion, $147 million above the current fiscal year’s level, $732 million over the president’s request and $100 million above the target set by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.

The bill makes full use of the estimated receipts for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and provides for six new study starts and six new construction projects.

Transportation Funding

The House Appropriations Committee released a draft version of its fiscal year 2020 funding bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development and related agencies.

According to a bill summary, the measure includes $1 billion for the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program, $100 million above the enacted amount for the current fiscal year and equal to the president’s request; $300 million for the Maritime Security Program, the same amount enacted for fiscal year 2019 and requested by the president; $300 million for school ship construction, equal to the current fiscal year’s enacted amount but $95 million above the president’s request; $225 million for the Port Infrastructure Development Program, $68 million under the current fiscal year’s enacted level while the president’s request did not include funding for the program.

Despite the reduction, the American Association of Port Authorities described the funding for port projects as great news, adding it follows the first-time direct funding for seaports in fiscal year 2019.

AAPA said that funding and $15 million for marine highway projects were top priorities.

New Training Ship

The Maritime Administration named TOTE Services, Inc. of Jacksonville Fla., as the Vessel Construction Manager (VCM) for the newest class of training ship, the National Security Multi-Mission Vessel (NSMV), to select a shipyard and ensure commercial best practices are utilized to deliver the NSMV on time and on budget.

“The U.S. shipbuilding industry is vital to America’s economic strength and security,” MarAd Administrator Mark Buzby said.

 “The selection of TOTE Services to work with a U.S. shipyard to deliver this class of vessels is an investment in our nation’s vital maritime infrastructure and underscores our mission to foster and promote the U.S. Merchant Marine.”

Buzby said construction of the NSMV will showcase the nation’s shipbuilding standard of excellence and provide an excellent training platform for future generations of mariners.