Trump Promised Massive Infrastructure Projects—Instead We’ve Gotten Nothing

Yves here. In a bit of synchronicity, when a reader was graciously driving me to the Department of Motor Vehicles (a schlepp in the wilds of Shelby County), she mentioned she’d heard local media reports that trucks had had their weight limits lowered due to concern that some overpasses might not be able to handle the loads. Of course, a big reason infrastructure spending has plunged in the US is that it’s become an excuse for “public-private partnerships,” aka looting, when those deals take longer to get done and produce bad results so often that locals can sometimes block them.

By Tom Conway, the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW). Produced by the Independent Media Institute

Bad news about infrastructure is as ubiquitous as potholes. Failures in a 108-year-old railroad bridge and tunnel cost New York commuters thousands of hours in delays. Illinois doesn’t regularly inspect, let alone fix, decaying bridges. Flooding in Nebraska caused nearly half a billion dollars in road and bridge damage—just this year.

No problem, though. President Donald Trump promised to fix all this. The great dealmaker, the builder of eponymous buildings, the star of “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump, during his campaign, urged Americans to bet on him because he’d double what his opponent would spend on infrastructure. Double, he pledged!

So far, that wager has netted Americans nothing. No money. No deal. No bridges, roads or leadless water pipes. And there’s nothing on the horizon since Trump stormed out of the most recent meeting. That was a three-minute session in May with Democratic leaders at which Trump was supposed to discuss the $2 trillion he had proposed earlier to spend on infrastructure. In a press conference immediately afterward, Trump said if the Democrats continued to investigate him, he would refuse to keep his promises to the American people to repair the nation’s infrastructure.

The comedian Stephen Colbert described the situation best, saying Trump told the Democrats: “It’s my way or no highways.”

The situation, however, is no joke. Just ask the New York rail commuters held up for more than 2,000 hours over the past four years by bridge and tunnel breakdowns. Just ask the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the nation a D+ grade for infrastructure and estimated that if more than $1 trillion is not added to currently anticipated spending on infrastructure, “the economy is expected to lose almost $4 trillion in GDP, resulting in a loss of 2.5 million jobs in 2025.”

Candidate Donald Trump knew it was no joke. On the campaign trail, he said U.S. infrastructure was “a mess” and no better than that of a “third-world country. ”When an Amtrak train derailed in Philadelphia in 2015, killing eight and injuring about 200, he tweeted, “Our roads, airports, tunnels, bridges, electric grid—all falling apart.” Later, he tweeted, “The only one to fix the infrastructure of our country is me.”

Donald Trump promised to make America great again. And that wouldn’t be possible if America’s rail system, locks, dams and pipelines—that is, its vital organs—were “a mess.” Trump signed what he described as a contract with American voters to deliver an infrastructure plan within the first 100 days of his administration.

He mocked his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s proposal to spend $275 billion. “Her number is a fraction of what we’re talking about. We need much more money to rebuild our infrastructure,” he told Fox News in 2016. “I would say at least double her numbers, and you’re going to really need a lot more than that.”

In August of 2016, he promised, “We will build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, seaports and airports that our country deserves. American cars will travel the roads, American planes will connect our cities, and American ships will patrol the seas. American steel will send new skyscrapers soaring. We will put new American metal into the spine of this nation.”

In his victory speech and both of his State of the Union addresses, he pledged again to be the master of infrastructure. “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, school, hospitals. … And we will put millions of our people to work,” he said the night he won.

That sounds excellent. That’s exactly what 75 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll said they wanted. That would create millions of family-supporting jobs making the steel, aluminum, concrete, pipes and construction vehicles necessary to accomplish infrastructure repair. That would stimulate the economy in ways that benefit the middle class and those who are struggling.

That contract Trump signed with American voters to produce an infrastructure plan in the first 100 days: worthless. It never happened. He gave Americans an Infrastructure Week in June of 2017, though, and at just about the 100-day mark, predicted infrastructure spending would “take off like a rocket ship.” Two more Infrastructure Weeks followed in the next two years, but no money.

Trump finally announced a plan in February of 2018, at a little over the 365-day mark,to spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure. It went nowhere because it managed to annoy both Democrats and Republicans.

It was to be funded by only $200 billion in federal dollars—less than what Hillary Clinton proposed. The rest was to come from state and local governments and from foreign money interests and the private sector. Basically, the idea was to hand over to hedge fund managers the roads and bridges and pipelines originally built, owned and maintained by Americans. The fat cats at the hedge funds would pay for repairs but then toll the assets in perpetuity. Nobody liked it.

That was last year. This year, by which time the words Infrastructure Week had become a synonym for promises not kept, Trump met on April 30 with top Democratic leaders and recommended a $2 trillion infrastructure investment. Democrats praised Trump afterward for taking the challenge seriously and for agreeing to find the money.

“It couldn’t have gone any better,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., told the Washington Post, even though Neal was investigating Trump for possible tax fraud.

Almost immediately, Trump began complaining that Democrats were trying to hoodwink him into raising taxes to pay for the $2 trillion he had offered to spend.

Trump and the Republicans relinquished one way to pay for infrastructure when they passed a tax cut for the rich and corporations in December of 2017. As a result, the rich and corporations pocketed hundreds of billions—$1 trillion over 10 years—and Trump doesn’t have that money to invest in infrastructure. Corporations spent their tax break money on stock buybacks, further enriching the already rich. They didn’t invest in American manufacturing or worker training or wage increases.

Three weeks afterthe April 30 meeting, Trump snubbed Democrats who returned to the White House hoping the president had found a way to keep his promise to raise $2 trillion for infrastructure. Trump dismissed them like naughty schoolchildren. He told them he wouldn’t countenance Democrats simultaneously investigating him and bargaining with him—even though Democrats were investigating him at the time of the April meeting and one of the investigators—Neal—had attended.

Promise not kept again.

Trump’s reelection motto, Keep America Great, doesn’t work for infrastructure. It’s still a mess. It’s the third year of his presidency, and he has done nothing about it. Apparently, he’s saving this pledge for his next term.

In May, he promised Louisianans a new bridge over Interstate 10—only if he is reelected. He said the administration would have it ready to go on “day one, right after the election.” Just like he said he’d produce an infrastructure plan within the first 100 days of his first term.

He’s doubling down on the infrastructure promises. His win would mean Americans get nothing again.

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45 comments

  1. The Rev Kev

    The whole thing seems so stupid. The desperate need is there, the people are there to do the work, the money spent into the infrastructure would give a major boost to the real economy, the completed infrastructure would give the real economy a boost for years & decades to come – it is win-win right across the board. But the whole thing is stalled because the whole deal can’t be rigged to give a bunch of hedge fund managers control of that infrastructure afterwards. If it did, the constant rents that Americans would have to pay to use this infrastructure would bleed the economy for decades to come.
    I have seen this movie before. A State builds a highway, it then leases that highway to a corporation for a bucket of cash which it uses to bribe the electorate to win the next election or two. The corporation shoves brand new toll booths on the highway charging sky high rates which puts a crimp in local economic activity. After the lease is up after twenty years, the State gets to take over the highway again to find that the corporation cut back on maintenance so that the whole highway has to be rebuilt again. Rinse and repeat.
    When President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956, can you imagine how history would have gone if they had been handed over to a bunch of corporations who would have built toll booths over the whole network? Would have done wonders for the American economy I bet.

    Reply
    1. Wukchumni

      One of the things discussed at our town hall meeting the other night, was a much needed $481k public bathroom, and that was the low bid.

      It has to be ADA compliant with ramps, etc.

      $48,100 seems like it’d be plenty to get ‘r done, as you can build a house with a couple of bathrooms, and a few bedrooms, a kitchen and living room for maybe $200k.

      Reply
      1. False Solace

        Where I live $40k is standard for a bathroom remodel, using builder-grade materials (which means low quality), not to build something brand-new, definitely not a free-standing structure, and wouldn’t have a dream of being ADA compliant.

        Reply
      2. Anon

        But then public facilities are not private homes. Your town is likely seeking matching (federal) funds for the project. That requires the contractor to follow Davis -Bacon wage rates. I imagine the main contractor is not located nearby (as are any of the sub-contractors). And ADA requirements assist a constantly changing 20% of the population with accessibility issues. (Access ramps assist mothers with strollers, the soccer kid with a damaged knee, as well as the aged and infirm—and they add only 1.5% to the cost of most construction projects.)

        The real expense of a PUBLIC restroom is that it has to be made essentially bomb-proof! Because those folks without disabilities can bang, scrape, gouge, and damage with abandon—and they will. So, the structure will be made out of reinforced concrete block, the doors will be reinforced steel (w/ four hinges per door), Their will be no stalls, but individual “unisex” rooms per commode to preclude US Congressman Craig behavior and allay the fear of both men, women, and children when entering an unknown public space (a cultural phenomenon). The plumbing will not be exposed to vandals but housed in an specially accessible work area where replacement parts will also be stored for the eventual vandalism and breakage that is likely to need immediate repair.

        Sound like your house?

        Reply
          1. rd

            The French stop and pee on the side of the road along highways. The US arrests people for doing that, so more bathrooms are needed. And those bathrooms need to be designed per the comments above so they can’t be vandalized or have Congressman Craig execute wide stances. Puritanism has costs.

            Reply
          2. Anon

            Compared to some other countries, using the toilets in France is easy, but there are still some things that might surprise you. You might come to realize that things in France, especially when it comes to the toilets, are not always la vie en rose.

            Actually, public French toilets are not plentiful and a partial body screen at pissoirs don’t provide the comfort, privacy, and gender-amenity to fully service the population. Public toilets in the US have building code requirements that protect us all from the spread of disease.

            Reply
    2. Ignacio

      And if toll revenues don’t come as high as expected, mother state will come to the rescue of those poor fund managers. I find it amazing that Trump uses the stupid Russia, Russia, Russia! fixation of democrats as an excuse to do nothing about infrastructure. Does this work with his electorate?

      Reply
      1. Samuel Conner

        re: “to the rescue of those poor fund managers”

        and the for-profit banks and shadow banks that lent them their funds.

        I suspect (and earnestly hope) that within my lifetime I will see the Fed funding public investment for public benefit through its limitless ability to create reserves, since Treasury won’t do it through money creation.

        Reply
  2. cnchal

    Tom, grow up.

    Promises by any narcissist mean nothing. You cannot hang your hat on any word that Trump speaks, because it’s not about you or anyone else, but about him and only him.

    Here is a heads up. If any infrastructure is done it will be airports. The elite fly and couldn’t give a crap about the suspension and wheel destroying potholes we have to slalom around every day. They also don’t care that the great unwashed waste thousands of hours stuck in traffic when a bridge is closed or collapses.

    Reply
    1. Carla

      Well, fix the airports and you’ve still got … Boeing, self-destructing as fast as it can. And Airbus can’t fill all the orders no matter how hard it tries. Guess everybody will just have to …. stay home.

      Reply
  3. WheresOurTeddy

    Are all the coal jobs back? How about the manufacturing? NAFTA been repealed and replaced with something better yet? How’s the wall coming and has Mexico sent the check yet? Soldiers back from Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria yet?

    Got that tax cut for rich people and a ton of conservative judges through though, didn’t he?

    Reply
    1. jrs

      A better healthcare system … pretty sure this was promised at some point by Trump., without details, but hey without any actuality either.

      Reply
  4. Katniss Everdeen

    “It couldn’t have gone any better,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., told the Washington Post, even though Neal was investigating Trump for possible tax fraud.

    What a surprise. It’s simply “amazing” that the insane status quo jihad that has been waged against Trump since he announced his candidacy had real consequences for the country. Who would have thought that calling ANY president ignorant, ugly, fat, a liar, a traitor, a cheater, an agent of Putin, a racist, a misogynist, a xenophobe, a bigot, an isolationist and an illegitimate occupant of the White House 24/7 since he or she won the election would make actual accomplishment nearly impossible.

    The mere mention of his name on college campuses has even been legitimized as a fear-inducing, “safety”-threatening “microagression.”

    It’s just so rich that having determined to prevent Trump from doing absolutely anything he promised during the campaign by any and all means, regardless of what the promise was or how beneficial it may have been, his numerous, bilious “critics” now have the gonads to accuse him of not getting anything done.

    With all due respect to the author of this piece, the result he laments was exactly the point of this relentless nightmare of Trump derangement to which the nation has been subjected for three years. I tend to think that the specific promise most targeted for destruction was his criticism of NATO and “infrastructure” was collateral damage, but that’s neither here nor there.

    The washington status quo has succeeded in its mission to cripple a president it could not defeat electorally, and now tries to blame him for their success. Cutting off your nose to spite your face has always been a counterproductive strategy.

    Reply
    1. marym

      From what was he “hobbled” during the first 2 years with a Republican Congress, other than eliminating Obamacare, a replacement for which he neither proposed nor demanded from Congress?

      Reply
      1. jrs

        Who knows the same people who wouldn’t buy the excuse that Obama was hobbled by Republicans, even though he was after the first two years (exactly parallel) will buy this, heaven knows why.

        Reply
    2. KYrocky

      “It’s just so rich that having determined to prevent Trump from doing absolutely anything he promised during the campaign by any and all means, regardless of what the promise was or how beneficial it may have been, his numerous, bilious “critics” now have the gonads to accuse him of not getting anything done.”

      Oh, the irony.

      Reply
    3. Appleseed

      Transit projects are an element of infrastructure and in this instance Congress did its job, allocating $3,772,741,265 to USDOT in the 2017-18 funding cycle for bus, rail, light rail, and streetcar projects. This had bi-partisan support because all legislators understand the many values transit has. According to the transit advocacy group, Transportation for America, only $1,427,059,425 of the 2017-18 funds has been awarded. These projects have all been vetted and approved by the Federal Transportation Administration and all include some level of local matching funds. But T4A claims the agency is “slow walking” the allocation of funds. Transit is not just infrastructure. It’s vitally important for working people so they can have access to employment, healthcare, and other services they need to fully participate in community and economic life.

      Reply
    4. Barbara White Stack

      Oh, THIS comment is rich. Trump had GOP majorities in both the House and Senate for two years. There was no way for Democrats to stop him then. And yet, and yet, he accomplished nothing but a tax break for the rich and corporations. Oh, and the dismantling of pieces of the Affordable Care Act so that health insurance now costs more than it would otherwise.

      After reading your screed, i feel so sorry for poor, poor little Trump. So sad. People are picking on him, as you said, “It’s just so rich that having determined to prevent Trump from doing absolutely anything he promised during the campaign by any and all means, regardless of what the promise was or how beneficial it may have been, his numerous, bilious “critics” now have the gonads to accuse him of not getting anything done.”

      I am sorry, are you talking about Trump here, or about how Trump and the GOP treated Obama, who, BTW, didn’t whine about it the way Trump does? Replace the name Trump in that sentence with the name Obama, and I think it’s more accurate.

      Reply
      1. rd

        Trump and the GOP have been astonished by how few corporations want to step up to the plate to fund infrastructure in the US. P3s are the only way to go in their minds. The problem is that very few things can be done as a P3 and actually make money off the direct revenue from it. Most infrastructure payback is indirect through increased productivity and additional jobs but that doesn’t pay for a bond.

        Reply
    5. Jeff

      “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

      – Mitch McConnell

      His goal was this….Not good public policy or creating a better future for the country or improving anything or reducing the country’s debt. No, it was preventing Obama’s re-election.

      This is what is wrong with party first Republicans. Hypocrites… The whole lot of you.

      Reply
  5. Dr. Uncle Steve

    Recently returned from nearly two months on the road, literally. Traveled from Colorado to Tuscon and back, as well as good chuck of CA , from Oalkand to Bakersfield. Out West the the interstates don’t intersect as much as they do out east, nor are there as many options, so all heavy traffic get’s funneled to those old roads. Each and every one of them is in terrible shape. Go west from Denver along I-70 and the highway, once out of the metro area, is a littered with pot holes, wide cracks, and other damage. Among the more frightening instances of disrepair I noted on I-70 were guard rails that were rusted through. In one case, an avalanche last winter had broken the rail in two. Over in CA, things were just as bad, although less likely to cause a driver to bounce wildly off the side of a mountain. Becasue this road was so rutted by the wear of heavy truck traffic, I spent a good 6 hours traveling north along I-5 through the “The Eureka State” completing a drive estimated to take 4 hours. Don’t even get me started on whatever the hell is going on with the pavement in east Oakland.

    Reply
  6. David in Santa Cruz

    So unfair! Trump has spent exactly double what his 2016 opponent has spent since the election on infrastructure. Do the math! 2 x 0 = 0

    Besides, how could Trump have predicted that the Republicans in Congress would turn on Our Friends the Saudis after MBS had Jamal Kashoggi murdered and dismembered? They were always fine with that sort of thing in the past! Now all of a sudden Lindsay Graham gets squeamish, just as Our Dear Leader was about to MAGA by unloading our roads, bridges, ports, and airports to the House of Saud? Who could have predicted that someone like Mitch McConnell would all of a sudden develop a conscience?

    So unfair!

    Reply
  7. KYrocky

    In case no one has noticed, the Republican party does not work for the good of country, but for the bounty they funnel to their funders.

    Because conservative politicians, talking heads and economists fit solutions to the lies they believe, privatization was touted as the wave of the future for our infrastructure funding and construction. One problem with that, it does not work, first because it requires investing large sums of real money, and second because there are far more profitable, and quicker, returns to be made else where.

    Add to that the underlying fact that so many on the right are adamant that government not be allowed to do anything that might construe or demonstrate that government can actually do good things that serve the people, and do it for less than the cost of privatization.

    America no longer invests in itself. It is not allowed to, unless they are to be paid for by steep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. No, America invests in its richest people, via tax cuts. No matter that the return on investment to our nation is only a fraction of what it would be if that money were instead invested in America, in infrastructure, affordable health care, education, and on and on.

    America, as it has been governed for at least 20 years, has ceased to strive to be great, and has instead adjusted to govern us into our decline as a nation and as a people.

    Reply
  8. PKMKII

    Basically, the idea was to hand over to hedge fund managers the roads and bridges and pipelines originally built, owned and maintained by Americans. The fat cats at the hedge funds would pay for repairs but then toll the assets in perpetuity. Nobody liked it.

    Which is why truly grand infrastructure projects can’t get built these days because the neocon/neolib hegemony puts enriching Mr. Market first and everything else a distant second. Rather than set up these projects to fit the needs of getting the stuff built, they set it up as to create another commodifiable investment scheme or tax credit nudge for the private corporations, which translates into garbage work at best, and a money pit with nothing to show for it at worst.

    Reply
  9. rc

    Trump gave corporations their highest net profit margins since 1929. That is all that he has ‘accomplished’.

    If he was serious about reindustrializing the U.S., he would make infrastructure investments closer to $5 trillion over the next several years. He would enforce anti-trust laws against hospitals, pharma, med device cos. and insurance, threatening executives with jail or an efficient, competitive economical industry that could provide universal care. He would use anti-trust further to lower total factor costs across the economy. People would waste less money on the damage, wait times and higher fuel costs poor infrastructure causes.

    But the government is owned by the oligarchs and like all the ones before him Trump is their guy. All you have to do is look at the actions of this government since Kennedy was assassinated to know who is truly in control.

    Reply
  10. AstoriaBlowin

    Rebuilding the infrastructure we have in place now will be the second biggest waste of money in American history after building it in the first place. We need to rebuild the highways, bridges, sewer and power systems that have lead to unending sprawl, massive energy inefficiency and emissions from car trips? No thanks.

    Rebuild infrastructure within the old cores of towns and cities and densify them again. Before the car destroyed this country we had fantastic rail (heavy and streetcar) systems and dense, walkable cities. If we want to bring them back, great, everything else is locking in the wasteful, resource intense, polluting system we have now.

    Reply
    1. Oh

      Yes, it’s better to put our money into commuter and hi speed rail but that won’t happen. The reason the politicians clamor about infrastructure spending is because there’s a lot of pork in it for the politicians. unfortunately, it’s not the same for rail.

      Reply
      1. baldski

        I agree. It is criminal that we lack high speed rail. If you have to go somewhere, you have two choices – fly or drive. Why not three? This would help in reducing carbon in the atmosphere from cars and planes. We already have the land, the neutral ground between the interstates.

        Reply
  11. Chauncey Gardiner

    So who, besides Trump, is behind this infrastructure policy failure? Who benefits from inaction?…

    Happily, the earlier proposal to enable “public-private partnership” looting failed. However, funding of major infrastructure initiatives would likely push up interest rates and is therefore to be avoided in the eyes of those who presently have dominant policy influence. The debt cycle has largely replaced the business cycle due to globalization of supply chains and financialization of the U.S. economy; prioritization of increasing valuations of financial assets, real estate and market indices to support the debt in a perpetual feedback loop; and a related need to push up collateral values to address valuation shortfalls caused by interest compounding on increased private sector debt.

    IMO the current administration, central banks, Wall Street, and CEOs of large corporations are trying to keep it all pasted together and to prolong the expansionary phase of the debt cycle until after the 2020 elections.

    As the congressional representative from Minnesota so cogently stated a few months ago, “It’s all about the benjamins.”

    Reply
  12. monday1929

    Can a President promise infrastructure or other money to a State conditional on being re-elected?
    Is this entirely ethical? Just kidding.

    Reply
  13. ksw

    Blame Congress. Once the Dems got control of the House, the announced policy was to impeach Trump as their sole purpose. Blame previous administration appointed Judges enjoying overreach by stymieing every EO by the President. Word of advice to all Democratic Presidential hopefuls. You don’t always get what you want even if you get elected.

    Reply
  14. rd

    Democrat presidents get to work with Republican Congresses whose goal is to make the Democrat a one-term president.

    Reply
    1. DHG

      I doubt any of that money will be used to build new wall it will flow into the pockets of the oligarchs and quickly.

      Reply
      1. Jim Young

        But, it seems the courts are going to let $2.5 billion be diverted to building a wall, as if Congress can’t perform its Constitutional role.

        If we can’t patch up our infrastructure (no a wall is not the infrastructure maintenance we need), can we at least patch up our Constitutional division of powers?

        Reply

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