President Trump's fake infrastructure plan includes basically no federal spending

After campaigning on the need to spend hundreds of billions on infrastructure, Trump has totally backtracked

Published February 12, 2018 12:32PM (EST)

 (AP/Eric Risberg)
(AP/Eric Risberg)

One of the biggest reasons why Donald Trump was able to flip so many normally Democratic voters his way in 2016 was that he did not campaign as a normal budget-cutting Republican.

This was true in the area of the social safety net, where Trump repeatedly vowed not to make reductions to Social Security and Medicare, but it was even more true in the area of America's infrastructure. As a candidate, the political newcomer promised to spend more than his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“Her number is a fraction of what we’re talking about. We need much more money to rebuild our infrastructure,” Trump said during an August 2016 interview with Fox Business Network. “I would say at least double her numbers, and you’re going to really need a lot more than that.”

At the time, Clinton was proposing to increase federal spending on roads, bridges and other such things by $275 billion.

But since he became president — and signed a Republican tax plan that will bring in $1.4 trillion less over the next decade — Trump has significantly scaled back his infrastructure proposal. While the White House is marketing the idea as being $1.5 trillion in size, almost none of the money actually would come from the federal government.

As is frequently the case, Trump and his administration officials have been contradicting each other in their promotion efforts.

"The current system is fundamentally broken, and it's broken in two different ways," a senior White House official said during a Saturday briefing. "We are under-investing in our infrastructure, and we have a permitting process that takes so long that even when funds are adequate, it can take a decade to build critical infrastructure."

During a Thursday interview with Wall Street Journal reporters, the president admitted that he was not proposing to spend very much. He also admitted that his administration would take money from other federal projects in order to pay for $200 billion in infrastructure funds.

Instead of noting that his tax cut just might be why he doesn't have the funds, Trump blamed the Iraq war for why he couldn't spend more:

Trump: Well, that’s not a large amount. I mean—think of this—I hate to say it but it’s not my fault and I did not want to go into Iraq, by the way. But as of two months ago we’re into the Middle East for $7 trillion. We made a lot of headway in the Middle East, by the way. I’ve knocked out ISIS and Syria and Iraq and all but— and we’re doing well in Afghanistan for the first time ever. But you’ll see the results over the next three or four months like you won’t believe.

Interviewers: You’re not talking about taking it out of the military budget?

Trump: No, never out of the military. No—no, no. Nothing comes out of the military. We’re making the military strong, again. Just the opposite—we’re building the military budget very substantially; you know that.

Interviewers: I mean do you have to find cuts or is this new spending? Would you be willing to spend new money on this?

TRUMP: No. This will be—this will be money that we will find. There’s a lot of places to find $200 billion. There are not a lot of places to find $1.8 trillion. . . . $200 billion sounds like a lot but relative to what we’re talking about it’s a number that we can easily handle.

The administration is taking a similar approach to NASA, setting expansive goals for the federal space agency but trying to force it to hit them without any corresponding budgetary increase.

In a December speech, Trump announced he wanted NASA to focus its efforts on returning to the Moon.

"This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints," he said. "We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond."

At the same time, however, the new budget proposal unveiled by the White House today calls for NASA to operate on a fixed budget through 2023.

By Matthew Sheffield

Matthew Sheffield is a national correspondent for The Young Turks. He is also the host of the podcast "Theory of Change." You can follow him on Twitter.

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