Schumer Floor Remarks on President Trump’s Infrastructure Plan and Trumpcare

June 6, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor discussing President Trump’s ‘infrastructure week’ proposals and the need for Senate Republicans to drop any plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Below are his remarks:

This week, the Administration is laying out a few “proposals” on infrastructure. So far, it’s been a major disappointment.                                                 

President Trump pitched a trillion dollar infrastructure plan in his campaign and continued to mention it in the days after the election. We Democrats welcomed that idea. One of my first conversations with the President after he was elected was about infrastructure. I said, you called for a trillion dollar infrastructure program. He said to me, at least that. I said, sounds good to me. Let’s work on it. We’ve made overtures to the White House saying we’d be willing to work with the President on infrastructure. I’ve said it to the President directly several times. Democrats have been pushing for new money for infrastructure for a very long time. We even put out our own proposals, a trillion dollar infrastructure plan, hoping it would spark a discussion. And we Democrats continue to welcome a serious and constructive dialogue on this issue.

But unfortunately, the President continues to disappoint. We sent our plan several months ago, and we heard nothing for those months. Now the President seems intent on pushing forward on an infrastructure plan of his own: one with few details; that’s mostly private-sector driven, and that means tolls; with minimal investment; that would ignore huge sectors of our infrastructure.

The president doesn’t seem to be talking to anyone but a few people in his inner circle. Some of them are financiers of course. They’ve been financing private infrastructure for a long time, but that’s not the way we’ve worked here since Henry Clay. Not a Republican, Mr. President. We didn’t have any then. He was a Whig, one of the forebears of the Republican Party. He came up with this idea of internal improvements. I remind the Majority Leader, he was from Kentucky, Clay… and internal improvements were supposed to connect what was then the East Coast with the far West – Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio. Roads over the Appalachians.

Ever since, we’ve had bipartisan support for the federal government building infrastructure and putting in the dollars for it. But not from President Trump, at least thus far.                                    

The President’s plan is a recipe for Trump tolls from one end of America to the other. That’s not what the American people are crying out for. They don’t want more tolls. They want us to rebuild our crumbling water systems, bridges, and schools – not finance new toll roads.                            

Unfortunately, the President surrounds himself with bankers and financiers, these are folks who used to work in investment banks. They look at infrastructure as an investment to be made by corporations in the private sector.

But infrastructure has never been a business investment. Infrastructure has been something the government has invested in for decades and even centuries because the benefits of infrastructure have great – what the economists call, Mr. President – externalities. The benefit for having a good highway is not just for the people who use the highway. But if a factory is nearby because it can get its goods there more quickly, that’s a benefit. A factory might locate nearby and bring new jobs and economic vibrancy to an area. The private sector might not build high-speed internet all the way out to the house at the end of the road if there isn’t a profit in there, but our rural people are as entitled to high-speed Internet as people in urban areas. And I might add there are large parts of New York City where that last mile isn’t done because there are poorer residents and it’s less profitable. 

So that’s why it’s always been the role of the government to stimulate infrastructure investment; to provide support for necessary maintenance and construction which the private sector would ignore. To connect that house at the end of the road to high-speed internet so that the children living in it can learn, thrive, and compete in a global economy. It benefits American even if someone isn’t making a huge profit immediately from the building of that broadband. Same with the highway, same with the bridge, same with the water and sewer, same with the school with Internet.

So bottom line: If the President wants to sit down with Democrats, of course we want to do it. But if he continues to take this path with a plan cooked up by Wall Street advisors, it won’t succeed. Or it will result in such a small measure that it won’t be very effective. And again, I’d say to the President: you know, there’s talk in the newspapers they want to do this by reconciliation. No Democratic votes, just 52 Republican votes here in the Senate. The same problem they had with health care, the same problem they’re having with tax reform, will repeat itself with infrastructure if you don’t do it in a bipartisan way. Our colleagues constantly remind us that Obamacare didn’t work because it was done by one party. But now they’re letting Trump lead them to do the same thing on just about every major issue. It’s a formula for failure that President Trump is advocating. He hasn’t been down here in Washington that long. It’s up to our Republican colleagues here to teach him that working in a bipartisan way is the only way you can really get things done here.

So my view: we need bipartisanship. But the President might not get – just remember – that many Republicans are very, very negative, initially at least, with a private-sector driven infrastructure bill because they represent rural areas.                              

Here’s what a Republican Senator from Wyoming, Sen. Barrasso – fine man – what does he say? “Funding solutions that involve public-private partnerships…do not work for rural areas.”

And my friend the Republican Senator from West Virginia has said that “as a person who represents an almost all-rural state…I’m concerned about how we are going to be able to incent the private dollars to go to the less-populated, less-economically developed areas of our country, because the investments are just as important.”

The bottom line is: an investment bank infrastructure plan like the one the President is proposing is a sure loser here in Congress.

It would turn over a public good to the whims of private finance, who won’t build infrastructure where America needs it, they’ll build it where they can make a buck.

And that means tolls, paid for by working Americans and middle-class Americans; that means rural areas won’t get the support they need; and that means any project that can’t generate user fees or taxes, like repairing our schools or water-sewer systems won’t get done. There is no free lunch. When the private sector wants to finance infrastructure, they naturally – that’s our free enterprise system – they want to get repaid. But who’s going to repay them? The average American. The truck driver scratching out a living, the salesmen or women scratching out a living, the family that’s going on vacation and has to stop every 30 miles for another big toll, the small business that depends on roads to get the goods to and from that business location.

If the President truly wants to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, he needs to approach this issue in a bipartisan way. There are several Republicans who don’t want the federal government to spend ANY more money on infrastructure, but the majority of Senators probably do. The President needs to sit down with Democrats and work something out if he wants to get something done.

He hasn’t sat down with Democrats, he doesn’t seem to want to. There are even reports that the President is considering doing infrastructure on reconciliation – that means just Republican votes – a huge mistake.

Republicans are tied in a knot on their biggest priorities because he insists on going at it alone.                 

Look at the entire Trump administration agenda. President Trump ran against both the Democratic and Republican establishments, a populist, if you will. But he has thrown his lot, since becoming President, in with hard right conservatives and is now pursuing an agenda entirely through the partisan process Republicans once decried.

Health care? Reconciliation. Taxes, the same. Now infrastructure?

The one area, Mr. President, where we kept the President out of it – the Appropriations process – worked swimmingly well. Leader McConnell and I, Senators Cochran and Leahy, House members, got together in a bipartisan way, and we worked it out. We each thought we had some victories. It worked. But I had to stand up at this desk and tell our Republican colleagues, keep the President out of it because it will bollocks everything up. Fortunately they did. Maybe we can do that again. But I’d say to the President, Mr. President, you can spend your entire first term agenda only trying to jam through partisan bills. That would be a shame, because America needs to get moving again. And on infrastructure, this is an issue where we really have some common ground.

That’s why Senate Democrats put forward a real, trillion dollar infrastructure plan that would create millions of jobs and actually fix our crumbling roads and bridges, while investing in every corner of America.

We stand ready and willing to work with the President on that plan or something similar that actually achieves what he promised on the campaign trail.

Now, Mr. President, another matter: healthcare.

According to reports, Republican Senators were planning to use the state work period last week to re-write their healthcare bill.

Well, now we’re back in session and unfortunately my friends on the other side of the aisle don’t seem to be any closer to having a bill. If they do have one, they are hiding it and going down the same path as House Republicans – drafting a bill that will impact tens of millions in secret; no transparency, no committee hearings, no debate.

Even with all this secrecy, more and more Republicans seem increasingly pessimistic about finding a Republican-only bill that can get fifty votes in the Senate.

Over the weekend, the senior Republican Senator from North Carolina, Senator Burr said, “I don’t see a comprehensive health-care plan this year.”

Just yesterday, Senator Thune, a member of Republican leadership, said the Republicans may rush a healthcare bill to the floor before they know if it has the support of their caucus.

My friends on the other side are learning how difficult it is to refigure our healthcare system under a process with only the votes of one party, in a way that actually improves our healthcare system – not devastates it as the House bill would.

So I hope my Republican friends soon realize that the only way they will get the votes necessary to pass a healthcare bill is if to drop repeal and work with Democrats to improve our healthcare system, not sabotage it.

We stand ready and willing to work with our Republican colleagues to further stabilize the insurance markets and build on the progress we’ve made in healthcare. In fact, we are running out of time before the 2018 rates are locked in.

Most insurance companies are saying they are raising rates because of the uncertainty that Republicans continue to inject in the market. The President has not come out permanently for cost sharing, which would reduce the premiums and keep people in the market. They just sort of do it months at a time. And that’s going to make the markets worse, and the public already – unfortunately – will blame those in charge, our Republican friends and the President, for the mess. As much as they would like to look past, as much as our colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to point fingers. People want something done now, don’t want fingers of blame on something that happened 5 years ago or 8 years.

We Democrats don’t want to tear everything down and start over again. Let’s keep all the progress -- the 20 million more Americans insured, the kids who can stay on their parents plan, the protections for folks with pre-existing conditions – and find ways to make even more progress on bringing down costs for consumers and improving the quality of care.