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Trump, US Democrats agree to forge $2 trillion infrastructure plan

Trump, US Democrats agree to forge $2 trillion infrastructure plan

Democratic leaders said Tuesday they reached agreement with President Donald Trump to pursue a $2 trillion plan for improving America's creaking infrastructure...

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01.05.2019 01:10 PM

Democratic leaders said Tuesday they reached agreement with President Donald Trump to pursue a $2 trillion plan for improving America's creaking infrastructure, but deciding how to pay for the ambitious project could become a sticking point.

"We agreed on a number which was very, very good: $2 trillion for infrastructure," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, in a sign the feuding sides may be willing to work together on accomplishing a major bipartisan goal to upgrade the nation's roads, bridges, airports, rail lines, energy grid, waterways and broadband internet access.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added that the lawmakers and Trump agreed to pursue a "big and bold" proposal, but that Democrats would be waiting eagerly to see the president's plans for how to pay for it.

The group will meet again with the president in three weeks.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders characterized the discussions as "excellent and productive" and said the meeting next month will address "specific proposals and financing methods."

But even before the talks concluded, a senior administration official cast doubt on the prospects of Democrats and the Republican president striking a deal.

"I hope the conversations go well today, but if they don't, it would not surprise me," acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told the Milken Institute Global Conference in California.

He said a major hurdle was the slow pace of approval for infrastructure projects, a process which must comply with a series of environmental regulations that Trump has often railed against.

"He's not interested in spending a trillion dollars now for something that's not going to get built until 2029," Mulvaney said.

Commitment to work on even the outlines of a bipartisan infrastructure plan, budgeted in 10-year chunks, marks a break in the clouds of political discord in Washington, but there was no guarantee the plan would advance in a divided Congress marred by gridlock.

The meeting was the first substantive huddle between Democrats and Trump since the 35-day shutdown beginning in December that stemmed from an impasse over funding the president's long-sought border wall.

It also follows the release of the special counsel's report that detailed Trump's attempts to stymie investigations into his presidency.

'Difficulties' elsewhere

Democrats have clashed repeatedly with Trump and the White House over the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 US election, and the Trump team's contacts with Russians.

But Pelosi and Schumer stressed those issues were not addressed at Tuesday's meeting.

"We may have our difficulties in other areas, but we cannot ignore the needs of the American people as we go forward," Pelosi said when asked whether it was difficult to work with Trump while he stonewalls the investigations.

Schumer said how to fund the infrastructure plan will be the "crucial" next stage in negotiations, even as the House and Senate proceed in oversight responsibilities of the president.

Trump, a New York real estate tycoon, has already voiced his commitment to upgrading infrastructure. 

He made it a campaign pledge in 2016, playing up his background in construction, and in early 2018 he proposed a 10-year, $1.5 trillion plan.

Under such a proposal, the federal government would fund some $200 billion, while states and private investors would put up as much as $1.3 trillion of the cost. But the funding structure raised concerns among lawmakers and the plan did not get a vote.

Some experts and business groups have called for increasing the gasoline tax as a way to help fund much-needed infrastructure projects, and Trump's administration has said such a move remained on the table.

The American Society of Civil Engineers, which grades the quality of the country's infrastructure every four years, gave the system a D+ in 2017.
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