Republicans are in a battle with President Donald Trump and each other over funding a $30 billion tunnel between New York City and New Jersey.
Trump spoke to House Speaker Paul Ryan at least four times to insist funding for the Gateway tunnel not be included in the omnibus federal spending bill. Trump even threatened to veto the bill, threatening a shutdown, if funding is included.
Trump is a welcome ally to Republicans who criticize the project as an earmark and a potential boondoggle. “I really think we can get a win,” Republican Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s in our favor to have the [Gateway funding] language stripped out of the omnibus.”
Trump’s support for the project, which would double the number of trains traveling between Newark, N.J., and New York City, shifted from being a top priority in transition documents on infrastructure. The White House said New Jersey and New York taxpayers need to contribute more.
New York and New Jersey Republican representatives are angling for the funding, putting Ryan in a tough spot. “If we can find a way to do it that the president will accept, [Ryan] has no opposition to it at all,” New York Republican Rep. Pete King said, according to Politico. “But he doesn’t want to pass a bill that the president is going to veto,” King added.
The tunnel project funding is “the only issue that he’s really talking about,” Ryan told the group, according to King.
King and other Republicans from the two states met with Ryan Wednesday to lobby for the funding, which in present form only provides $900 million to get the project going. That would still be more than the $233 million for the infamous “bridge to nowhere” project in Ketchikan, Alaska, which became the mascot for wasteful earmarks.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer from New York called the Gateway tunnel the most important infrastructure project in the country. It’s possible Democrats won’t be willing to provide extra votes needed to pass the bill if the House spending bill doesn’t include funding for the tunnel.
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The administration doesn’t disagree with the project itself rather the fact New York and New Jersey have only committed a small percentage of the total cost.
The Gateway project is “unusual in their unwillingness to following the process like other states,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said during a Senate hearing Wednesday. The two states “did not come in with a realistic financing plan,” Chao said when pressed further.
“New York and New Jersey have contributed somewhere between zero percent and five percent of this project,” said Budd, who first proposed an amendment to strip the language from the 2017. “They say it’s important, but they haven’t committed any money to it.”
“The argument here is not the lack of importance, the argument here is this is the most expensive place on the planet and the worst boondoggle ever for infrastructure, especially rail,” Budd added.
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