By Arul Louis
New York, May 1 (IANS) US President Donald Trump and his Democratic adversaries put aside the fallout of the Russia investigations and their incessant confrontations for 90 minutes to arrive at an ambitious $2 trillion plan to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
After the White House meeting on Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “We’re very excited about the conversation we had with the president”.
And Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it was “an excellent and productive meeting”.
The two sides agreed during their meeting on “rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure including roads, highways, bridges, tunnels and railroads, modernising our air travel system, and expanding broadband access for our great farmers and rural America” Sanders said.
Pelosi said, “We have opportunity to work together in a bipartisan way”.
However, they have yet to work out the details of the infrastructure plan or how to finance it and agreed to meet again.
There will be hard-bargaining on the plan over issues like climate change and workers’ rights.
While Trump had wanted a $1.8 trillion plan and the Democrats $2.2 trillion, they compromised on $2 trillion.
With the national debt running at $22 trillion, the highest ever, finding the money for it would be an arduous task. However, to the dismay of naysayers and Trump critics, the economy has done well, clocking a 3.2 per cent growth, and unemployment is at 3.8 per cent, giving Trump an advantage.
In tweets after the meeting Trump complained about the Federal Reserve raising interest rate. If it lowered the rate, he said, with the “wonderfully low inflation, we could be setting major records and, at the same time, make our National Debt start to look small!”
The reason for the sudden turn to cooperation is the elections looming next year and Trump and his adversaries have little concrete achievement to show for the past two years.
Trump has not been able to keep his election promises to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants or to scrap the universal health care programme built mostly on private health insurance. He had promised a $1 trillion infrastructure programme during his campaign.
The Democrats were chasing the mirage of Trump’s collaboration with Russia, now disproven by an independent investigation. Although some in the party hold on to its lack of a definitive conclusion on Trump obstructing justice as grounds for possible impeachment, it may only amount to a distraction without the needed two-thirds majority required in the Senate to oust a president — and the leadership is not for it.
Concrete and steel — with some fibreglass thrown in — may be the only things on which the two sides could agree on and come up with something that is not just caustic verbiage.
And the dismal state of US infrastructure should be enough of an incentive: Pot-holed roads, failing bridges and New York’s subway system and La Guardia airport where water gushes in during rains, stand in contrast to that of some of the developing countries.
The meeting with the participation of Trump officials and key Democrats was held behind close doors unlike an earlier meeting in December on the border wall when Trump invited television cameras in to create a spectacle. And there were no theatrics as at a January meeting when he stomped out when they could not agree on ending the government shutdown.
While Trump could rally his party around an infrastructure plan, Pelosi will find it more difficult to get her party in line, with many obsessed with impeachment or a socialist agenda.
For Democrats agreeing to a Trump infrastructure initiative risks giving Trump an unintentional boost, while opposing it – if he could put aside other distractions and focus on it – could make him score campaign points.
They may also need an economy-focused issue to appeal to the centrist voters they will need to unseat Trump in the elections.
But if there was “goodwill” at the White House as Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Party in the Senate declared, the confrontation, however, continued in Congress.
He told reporters that Democrat-led investigations and cooperation on infrastructure could go on parallel tracks.
Attorney General William Barr has been ordered by the Democrats to testify on the Russia collusion probe before a Democrat-controlled House of Representative panel on Thursday and he may defy them.
And several House panels are pursuing investigations, which Trump is opposing. He has gone to court to stop banks from turning over information about his and his family’s finances to the House committees.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)