Voters Care About Infrastructure

Author: Robert Fischer, GTiMA President | Date: May 18, 2017

Editor’s note: Happy infrastructure week! This is the week during which Congress devotes most of its time to exploring possibilities for improving America’s infrastructure. At least, that’s what they usually do. This time around, all eyes are on the Trump/Comey situation, and likely will remain there for a while. But let’s just pretend there weren’t any political problems blocking actual policy decisions during this crucial week and dive into one of our favorite topics: infrastructure.

Sometimes you have to sort through the bad news to find a silver lining. A recent poll may turn the stomachs of the Trump administration and Republicans in congress, but if they read it carefully, they’ll see they have a chance to turn things around: and it’s not by repealing Obamacare or building the border wall – it’s by delivering on Trump’s campaign promises regarding infrastructure.

The poll in question was a survey of midterm voters in four swing states flipped by Trump in 2016 – Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And there’s no two ways about it: things are looking bleak for him and his party. A whopping 80% of voters surveyed, for example, say they believe that Trump lies. A plurality of voters don’t feel he’s been successful, and a majority of those voters feel he has himself to blame. A majority of voters also will blame Trump and Congressional Republicans if spending disagreements result in a government shutdown.

But the poll contains some clues for what the administration ought to do next. Trump needs a win, but with recent efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act floundering in Congress and disagreements over the border wall holding up spending bills, it would appear Trump needs to adjust his priorities.

According to the write-up of the results, “voters are lukewarm regarding Trump’s campaign promises” — for example, only 40% o0f respondents said they’d be disappointed if the border wall isn’t built, and 3/4ths of the disappointed would still vote Republican in the midterms anyway – but they do have one priority in mind: infrastructure.

Infrastructure is “the most popular and ‘deal-breaking’ of the four promises tested … with 57% of voters indicating disappointment if it does not pass by 2018, and only 53% of that subset indicating they would vote Republican [if it doesn’t happen].”

So we hope the administration is paying attention. And judging by a few recent decisions, it would appear that the President will need to change tack to get it done through bipartisan consensus.

Not only is bipartisanship essential to getting a bill passed – we’ve reported the difficulty in moving an infrastructure bill through Congress in more than one piece – it’s completely doable. Democrats, at least in theory, love the idea of investing in infrastructure. Many Republicans have also named infrastructure as a major priority. Both parties know this is a popular, necessary measure.

For that reason, it’s somewhat disappointing to learn from a Politico transportation reporter that a recent confab between DOT secretary Elaine Chao and the House Transportation Committee was “a Republicans-only affair… Democrats were not informed about the meeting.” The meeting was to discuss the role of public-private partnerships in an infrastructure funding initiative. While Republicans and the Trump administration may like this approach more than Democrats do, transportation and infrastructure (T&I) Democrats have always maintained they believe public-private partnerships have a role to play in any infrastructure bill.

Hopefully, the administration is just finding its sea legs. Politico also recently reported that the Trump administration’s practice of adding “senior advisers” at every federal department has completely backfired and that they’re looking to give up on this “shadow cabinet.”

The shadow cabinet plan was especially bad at DOT. Senior adviser Anthony Pugliese, according to a DOT source speaking with Politico, “got off to a rough start when he ordered the blocking of all outgoing mail in the early days of the administration, supposedly to prevent last-minute Obama decisions from going out the door, then neglected to lift the order. The result was a giant stack of mail full of obscure bureaucratic missives that nobody knew what to do with.”

Secretary Chao herself was put off by the shadow cabinet push. The DOT source said that “Pugliese at one point informed Chao that he wanted to approve every DOT policy prior to its public release, which took Chao by surprise.” According to the source, “the secretary was like, ‘um, what’s your name again?'”

The Trump administration has had a go at dealing with these vital infrastructure issues without compromise. Press covering the above mishaps has certainly done nothing to aid his efforts. But ultimately, it all comes down to votes. The administration needs a win, and the data shows that the win comes in the form of an infrastructure package.

So it’s time for Trump and congressional Republicans to finally invite Democrats to the table, admit that they need to work together to pass an infrastructure bill, and get started right away finding common ground on language and purpose. It will take some compromising, but isn’t that what Congress is supposed to do?

And just in case infrastructure becoming a national emergency isn’t enough motivation, the administration can just take the pulse of the swing states that put them in power. If they want to continue chairing the Transportation committees, along with all the rest, it seems clear that the infrastructure bill is the win they need to retain the confidence of their voters.

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