Three questions with John Cahill, Vice Chairman, Federal Relations

webres_120403_oneill_johncahill-0108In the State of the Union, President Trump called for “at least 1.5 trillion in investment.” Is there a path forward for his plan?

The framework of an infrastructure plan was shared in the media a few weeks ago and the reaction to it was quite reserved on both sides of the aisle. Historically, infrastructure is one area that gets bipartisan support, but that will prove difficult in the current political environment. The framework would leverage $200 billion in direct federal dollars over 10 years with the remainder of the $1 trillion plus investment coming from states, municipalities, and the private sector. In practical terms, most Congressional authorizations don’t extend 10 years. Furthermore, most cities and states don’t have these extra dollars available. Mayors and Governors would have to raise tolls or other fees to find the revenue. Rural states with smaller populations and fewer users of highways or transit systems would be disproportionally affected. The formula doesn’t really make sense in its current form – what governor is going to raise fees in order to get a smaller share of federal infrastructure dollars? We will be monitoring the Committees and Subcommittees as they work to craft actual legislation. With 2018 being an election year and so much partisanship around federal spending already, it’s difficult to see a comprehensive infrastructure package moving forward.

We are quickly approaching the next deadline to fund the government. Will we have another shutdown?

The upcoming deadline to reach a new deal to keep the government open is February 8. There is increasing talk of another stopgap measure that would fund the government for another 30 days – and the possibility that this one-month-at-a-time plan may be what the Republicans continue to do going forward. There’s discord over this within the Republican majority, however. Freedom Caucus members want more on the table to strengthen budget caps and restrict immigration. Another shutdown is possible, but it’s more likely that we will see a short term deal instead. Another factor is the impact of tax reform on the debt ceiling. The revenue shortfall will likely require action to raise the debt ceiling in addition to finding agreement on a Continuing Resolution.

There’s talk of the House of Representatives possibly restoring the practice of earmarks. What’s happening here?

Recently there’s been a flurry of comments and activity on whether it’s time to bring back earmarks or Member-directed spending. The House eliminated earmarks in 2011 following several instances of excesses and political pressure to reduce federal spending. Some believe that the elimination of earmarks contributed greatly to partisan divide as Members were no longer compelled to make deals with one another in order to secure funding for projects in their districts. It’s too soon to tell what will happen, but we expect that the possible return of earmarks will get serious consideration before the November elections. Even so, the outcome is uncertain.