Politics

Has Trump Abandoned Funding Infrastructure Through Public-Private Partnerships?

In the wake of a big legislative win on tax reform, White House officials met with GOP leadership over the weekend to discuss their next major push: overhauling the nation’s ailing infrastructure.

The Trump administration has sold the project as inherently ripe for bipartisan co-operation, using the language of “public private partnership,” but it appears the president increasingly doubts the effectiveness of that approach.

After insisting throughout his campaign and the early days of his presidency that relatively limited government spending would spur massive private investment in infrastructure projects, Trump began casting doubt on the idea in September, during a meeting with Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Trump “emphatically rejected what everybody assumed was his position relative to financing infrastructure,” Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins of New York told The Washington Post. “He dismissed [the idea of public-private partnerships] categorically and said it doesn’t work.”

Trump has reportedly maintained his aversion to the idea, telling Republican leaders gathered in Camp David Friday that public-private partnerships were not viable, according to The Washington Post. The very next day White House economic adviser Gary Cohn presented a plan suggesting the administration believed $200 billion in government spending would trigger $1 trillion in combined private investment and local and state spending.

A White House spox told The Daily Caller News Foundation that there is no disconnect between Trump and Cohn’s respective visions regarding infrastructure, and insisted that any suggestion to the contrary emerges from a simplistic understanding of the policy area. They further explained that the White House intends on presenting an infrastructure framework that relies on $200 billion in government spending, but is agnostic as to whether state and local governments burden the public with any shortfall through user fees, or rely on private investment to make up the difference.

Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters cast Cohn’s presentation as fully in keeping with the President’s goals.

“The President’s infrastructure vision is very clear and is based around 2 main goals: leveraging federal funds as efficiently as possible in order to generate over $1 trillion in infrastructure investment and expediting the burdensome and lengthy permitting process. Gary’s presentation outlined that vision,” Walters said in a statement provided to TheDCNF.

The statement goes on to acknowledge that there are “legitimate questions” surrounding the efficacy of private investment in public infrastructure projects and added that the White House will continue to examine all options.

“Just like with any new policy, there are legitimate questions about how P3’s [public-private partnerships] can best be incorporated into our nation’s infrastructure program,” the statement reads. “P3’s have been a part of the administration’s research into generating the trillion dollar infrastructure investment that the President has promised, but they are certainly not the silver bullet for all of our nation’s infrastructure problems and we will continue to consider all viable options.”

Trump’s reported aversion to public-private partnerships might discourage conservatives in Congress concerned about the implications of a costly infrastructure overhaul absent substantial private backing.

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