By KEN THOMAS and JOSH BOAK
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is beginning his push for a $1 trillion overhaul of the nation’s roads and bridges, a central item on his agenda that’s been stymied in Congress and overshadowed by White House controversies.
Trump plans a series of events this coming week to draw attention to his efforts to modernize American infrastructure — the highway, waterway, electrical and airway systems on which the nation operates. His campaign for public and private money is expected to run from the White House, where he’ll speak about improving air-traffic control, to Ohio on inland waterways and to meetings with mayors, governors and Transportation Department officials.
The Trump administration has struggled to gain traction on many of its economic policies. Job growth has slowed in recent months instead of accelerating as the president predicted. Trump has said he has tax legislation moving through Congress but his attempts have been stalled and no bill has been written. His budget plan released during his foreign trip included math errors that enabled the White House to falsely claim that its tax plan would deliver both faster growth and a balanced budget.
Trump’s agenda has been overshadowed by ongoing probes into whether Trump campaign officials or associates colluded with Russian officials to influence the 2016 election, as well as scrutiny over Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey — who is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
And other policies on the agenda, such as health care and taxes, come first on a fast-closing legislative calendar.
But adopting a plan to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure remains a difficult proposition.
Trump’s push to rebuild deteriorating roads, bridges, airports and railways aims to unlock economic growth and succeed in an endeavor in which his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, was repeatedly thwarted by a Republican-led Congress.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you are farmer in the Midwest, or a mother driving your kids to and from school, or a worker or a college kid flying back and forth to school, you’re affected by infrastructure,” Gary Cohn, White House economic adviser, said in a conference call with reporters.
Cohn said the country was “falling behind and the falling behind is affecting economic growth in the United States. The president wants to fix the problems and he doesn’t want to push these liabilities into the future.”
Trump on Monday is set to outline his legislative principles for overhauling the air-traffic-control system, using a White House address to propose separating those operations from the Federal Aviation Administration, a key priority for U.S. airlines.
The president plans to travel to Ohio on Wednesday to talk about ways to improve levees, dams and locks along inland waterways that are crucial to agricultural exports. His visit is expected to include a speech likely to touch on working with states and local governments.
Cohn said governors and mayors are scheduled to meet with Trump at the White House on Thursday to talk about the efficient use of tax dollars for infrastructure projects.
On Friday, Trump will visit the Transportation Department to discuss regulatory changes related to roads and railways. Trump has noted that the approval process for permits can frequently drag on for a decade and has called for shortening the length of the review process.
Trump’s focus on infrastructure follows the government’s monthly jobs report, which showed that hiring had slowed in May. The economy has added an average of 121,000 jobs over the past three months, down from a monthly average of nearly 187,000 last year, despite Trump’s promotion of his economic prescriptions.
On infrastructure, the administration has pointed to plans for a package of tax breaks meant to help spur $1 trillion in new spending on roads, bridges and other construction during the next decade. It also would drastically shorten project approval times. According to Trump’s budget proposal, the funding would come from $200 billion in tax breaks over nine years that would then — in theory — leverage $1 trillion worth of construction.
A senior White House official has said the infrastructure plan might also incentivize local governments to sell their existing infrastructure to private firms.
But Democrats have warned that the Trump budget reduces infrastructure spending elsewhere, including cuts to Amtrak subsidies, the elimination of an infrastructure-investment program started under Obama and a more-than-$90-billion decrease in congressional support for the Highway Trust Fund over 10 years.
Democrats have also been critical of Trump’s interest in forging public-private partnerships as an alternative to standard spending on infrastructure projects. At the same time, many conservative Republicans have been wary of proposals calling for a massive government investment.
And with Republicans in control of Congress, Democrats have shown little appetite for working with the president as he faces inquiries into his ties with Russia and takes a generally combative stance.
“If the obstructionists want to get together with me, let’s make them non-obstructionists,” Trump said Thursday, discussing his plans to exit the Paris climate pact. “We will all sit down and we will get back into the deal. And we’ll make it good, and we won’t be closing up our factories, and we won’t be losing our jobs.”