WASHINGTON, D.C.—With legislation overhauling taxes and health care on an uncertain path, President Donald Trump returned to the familiar. Trump brought 52 business leaders from New York City to the White House April 4 to talk about another favourite campaign issue—infrastructure and economic growth.
The U.S. economy has so far proven to be a point of pride for a presidency that has otherwise gotten off to a rocky start. Trump inherited a stable economy from former President Barack Obama, an economic recovery that’s heading toward its eighth year. But Trump believes he can do more for business.
Trump and several of his top aides emphasized plans to cut red tape and jumpstart infrastructure projects while also previewing for the CEOs other priorities that include shortening flight times for airplanes, increasing the power grid’s efficiency and targeting programs to improve job training.
At one point the president had an aide come on stage to hold up a long scroll of the government’s approval process for building a highway. The president then pledged to eliminate more than 90 per cent of the regulations involved and “still have safety.” He provided no details.
The administration has committed to directing as much as $1 trillion for infrastructure over the next decade, although it has yet to release policy specifics. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently said she expects a plan will be unveiled later this year.
But getting a measure through Congress could be difficult given the Republican majority in both chambers and their desire to reduce tax rates as much as possible. An infrastructure plan that relies on direct funding could possibly raise the budget deficit more than one that uses tax credits.
Trump touted the plan he says is in the works, telling the room, “We’re talking about a very major infrastructure bill of a trillion dollars, perhaps even more.”
Administration officials stressed that it can take more than eight years between funding and the start of project construction, a timeline White House officials say is too slow given the commitment of hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
Trump wanted the CEOs gathered at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building—many of them involved in real estate—to start building roadways, airports, railways, bridges and other infrastructure as quickly as possible.
“If you have a job that you can’t start within 90 days, we’re not going to give you money for it,” Trump said.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Joan Lowy contributed to this report.