President Donald Trump should urge Congress to attach a major infrastructure bill to the anticipated legislation to provide emergency assistance to areas hit by Hurricane Harvey when legislators return in September.
The issues are closely related, since there will be an urgent demand to rebuild or repair infrastructure damaged by the storm, and other states threatened by future natural disasters — not just hurricanes — will want to shore up their defenses now.
Moreover, there may not be another opportunity to jump-start the president’s stalled infrastructure plans.
Originally, Trump hoped to pass an infrastructure program with help from some Democrats. But that hope faded as Democrats decided to bring down the Trump administration by any means necessary.
The vote for Hurricane Harvey aid will be one of the only bipartisan votes this Congress takes. That does not mean Republicans can attach any proposal to the bill — an Obamacare repeal, for example, would not fly — but opposition to an infrastructure bill will be weak.
That includes the conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill, who are no longer in the mood for a fight over spending, and seem likely to defer controversial issues, such as funding for the border wall, to later this year.
It helps that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who might lead the opposition to an infrastructure bill, is up for re-election in 2018, and will therefore almost certainly vote “yes” on whatever version of Hurricane Harvey aid is proposed.
Cruz has already faced accusations of hypocrisy for seeking aid for Texas after opposing the relief bill for Hurricane Sandy in 2013 because it was loaded down with pork spending for completely unrelated projects.
If Democrats can attach wasteful pork spending to a relief bill, then surely Republicans can attach productive spending that will build infrastructure and that could eventually pay for itself through increased economic growth.
Trump should, in fact, borrow a page from the Democrats’ playbook and use a temporary crisis to achieve a long-term policy goal. As Barack Obama’s then-incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said in 2008: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste … Things that we had postponed for too long, that were long-term, are now immediate and must be dealt with. This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.”
True, an infrastructure bill could widen the federal deficit and debt, at least for now. But Trump’s reform agenda has stalled, and there are only 12 days on the legislative calendar before the end of the month and the fiscal year. By adding an infrastructure bill to Hurricane Harvey spending, he can win September and revive his legislative goals.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.