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Shovels Down: White House Drives Dagger Into Infrastructure Bill

Roll Call logo Roll Call 5/25/2018 John T. Bennett
Workers take a break near the presidential inauguration construction site on the West Front of the Capitol on December 8, 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo) © Provided by CQ Roll Call, Inc. Workers take a break near the presidential inauguration construction site on the West Front of the Capitol on December 8, 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House formally drove a dagger into the passage this year of the kind of massive infrastructure package called for by President Donald Trump.

What is on the White House’s legislative agenda for the rest of the year includes another tax package, a farm bill, more federal judiciary nominations — and possibly immigration legislation.

White House legislative affairs chief Marc Short told reporters Friday that infrastructure will slide into 2019. He blamed election-year politics, saying Democrats have signaled in recent conversations they are uninterested in handing Trump a victory ahead of the midterm elections.

“The pathway to 60 is challenging right now,” Short said, referring to Senate rules requiring that many votes to end debate, meaning a handful of Democrats would have to vote with Republicans.

That means Congress will “take it up next year,” Short said, contending there is “bipartisan interest” in a massive measure — perhaps as big as $1.5 trillion — to overhaul the country’s aging roads, bridges, airports, tunnels and seaports. That conclusion is based on his conversations with Blue Dog Democrats and several bipartisan caucuses on Capitol Hill, Short said.

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White House officials are more “optimistic” on another measure, a massive farm bill, a version of which went down in flames in the House last week. Short said he expects Congress will find a way to send Trump a farm bill this year.

The recent House collapse was actually about conservatives’ desire to first take up immigration legislation, he said, adding those Republicans support work requirements opposed by Democrats. Once the immigration standoff is resolved, the White House is confident the GOP votes will be there to clear the farm bill.

However, any Senate-passed measure would have “significant differences” that a conference committee would have to address, Short said.

And on immigration, the White House opposes the effort in the House, backed by a growing list of Republican members, to use a discharge petition to force immigration floor votes. That would effectively hand control of the floor to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Short said. He would not take a stance on any of the bills leadership and various GOP factions are talking about, saying the White House will only support one that reflects its long-stated priorities.

Trump and congressional Republicans talk often about the tax measure he signed into law a few days before Christmas, though Democrats contend it disproportionately helps large corporations and does little to help the so-called “forgotten men and women” — candidate Trump’s words — that helped put him in the Oval Office in 2016.

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Despite those criticisms, Republicans want to score a second tax win this year.

The White House and congressional Republicans hope to unveil a new tax cut package “toward the end of the summer,” Short said. That bill would, among other things, propose making individual tax rate reductions included in the recent GOP law permanent, Short said, noting the administration is working with the relevant House and Senate committee leaders on that measure.

The White House official at several points during a midday call lauded the number of federal judges nominated by Trump during his first 15 months and confirmed by the Senate. He again urged Democrats to allow additional ones to be processed with more speed. Those nominations can take up gobs of floor time, with the president recently saying he wants the Senate to stay in town in August to continue its work.

Short sidestepped a question on whether the White House will ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to keep the chamber in session in August, saying that will be a decision for Senate leaders. But he reiterated the president’s comments that if work on spending bills and his nominees remains, the Senate should stick around and keep working.

The president is expected to make some laws over the next two weeks after Congress passed two bills with bipartisan votes.

Trump next week will sign into law legislation passed by both chambers intended to give terminally ill individuals ways to obtain drugs that are still considered experimental, according to Short. The following week, he is expected to sign into law a bipartisan $52 billion veterans measure.

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