The White House budget released Thursday will strip infrastructure funding from federal agencies to divert funds to a forthcoming executive branch infrastructure plan, according to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget,
“We believe those programs to be less effective than the package we’re currently working on,” Mulvaney said.
President Donald Trump, in his joint address last month, called on Congress to procure $1 trillion through legislation for infrastructure, which appears to be the “package” Mulvaney was referencing, although it’s now largely believed to originate in the White House.
Mulvaney declined to provide detail about which agencies would see cuts or how much the government was looking to save in order to fund its own plan. He did refer to “line-item reductions” specifically within the Department of Transportation.
The administration has been vocal about its desire to cut costs even as it pursues its own spending programs, sparking criticism from some Democrats. “While [President Trump] simultaneously criticizes the future of our country’s infrastructure, he wants to gut the very agencies that help address these vast needs,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., at a March 8 subcommittee hearing on infrastructure.
Leahy was among eight Senate Democrats putting forth their own $1 trillion infrastructure plan in January.
The biggest infrastructure programs currently sit within the Department of Transportation, which repairs highways, bridges and airports, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the country’s inland waterways.
Despite centralizing the funding for infrastructure, the administration will still need to rely on the technical know-how of the agency experts, according to Jim Nussle, CEO of the Credit Union National Association and former director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush. But Nussle said the power of the purse at the White House could become an important political tool when dealing with Congress, especially in a post-earmark world.
“It may only be a few hundred million here or there” to fund a new bridge or dam, Nussle said. “But that’s a big deal to a local congressman to demonstrate their commitment.”
Capitol Hill, for its part, may suffer from some infrastructure fatigue and now believes the ball is in the Trump administration’s court. In the last two years, for example, Congress passed legislation totaling $305 billion to repair highways and transit systems, and later authorized 30 new projects for the ACE.
“There’s been reticence in the House since the word ‘Go,'” said Doug Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum. “You have to have someone own this in the West Wing.”