President Donald Trump laid out his vision this week for his second year in office during his first State of the Union (SOTU) address. It focused on first-year achievements such as regulatory reform, tax cuts and “ending the war on American energy,” all of which were passed almost exclusively with Republican votes. But in looking toward the future, the SOTU turned conciliatory, calling for bipartisanship in Congress to act on the President’s legislative priorities: immigration and infrastructure.
Ahead of the 2018 midterms, Republicans in Congress are hoping to enact one more legislative accomplishment to shore up their base of support in a year where the party in power historically loses seats in Congress.
One of the more dominant topics he identified for action, illegal immigration and a solution to address “Dreamers” and the soon to expire Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, is not likely to engender bipartisan cooperation. However, many in the administration, Congress, and the business community are hopeful that the $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan he previewed might.
The proposed infrastructure plan aspires to provide reliable infrastructure, which would not only include roads, bridges, railways, and waterways, but also safe drinking water, energy, and technological infrastructure.
The key question President Trump didn’t answer is how he proposed paying for it. The plan appears to call for limited federal appropriations to reach the $1.5 trillion mark and hinges on spurring investment by local government and private sector in infrastructure by removing federal “red tape.” In fact, after the speech, administration officials said they would leave specific funding mechanisms up to lawmakers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has suggested that Congress consider increasing the gasoline tax, as many states are already doing to shore up their crumbling infrastructure. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has suggested he would be open to this, as have others on his side of the aisle.
In conjunction with the President’s plan to spur infrastructure investment, the plan proposes regulatory reforms that would streamline the building of this new infrastructure by reducing permitting times from ten years to two years, “or perhaps even one.” Prior to the speech, a memo was leaked outlining the administration’s new “permitting principles” that the President referred to in the speech.
The memo includes:
- Creating a new “One Agency, One Decision” structure for environmental reviews to encourage collaboration and effective communication by establishing deadlines and requiring the Permitting Council to either grant agencies an extension to the deadlines or reassigning the decisions for the permit to the lead federal agency.
- Eliminating redundancies by removing multiple reviews by multiple agencies.
- Delegating more responsibilities to states.
- Providing for additional provisions to facilitate environmental reviews across the applicable federal agencies.
- Authorizing pilot programs through which agencies may experiment with innovative approaches to environmental reviews while enhancing environmental protections.
- Reexamining certain judicial review standards to ensure that issues are quickly resolved.
The President said, “We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?” You can’t help but agree.