March 9, 2018 10:15 AM, EST
Ryan Says Congress to Break Up Trump’s Infrastructure Proposals
Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg News

House Republicans will break President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan into multiple pieces of legislation as a way to make progress this year, House Speaker Paul Ryan said.

Ryan said the House will first address airports and runways as part of a must-pass reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, then work on more traditional highway and bridge issues. Congress will start on infrastructure legislation in the coming weeks, he said.

“We just think it’s easier to do this in pieces,” Ryan said March 8 in a talk to employees of Home Depot Inc. at the company’s headquarters in Atlanta.

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Trump released his legislative outline to upgrade U.S. roads, bridges and other public works last month that calls for allocating at least $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years, mostly as incentives to spur states, localities and the private sector to spend at least $1.5 trillion. The plan also would reduce the time for granting permits for projects to two years or less.

Ryan of Wisconsin said Republicans agree with Trump on using federal dollars to draw private investment in infrastructure projects and on streamlining the environmental review and permitting process.

There are concerns in Congress about whether there will be enough time to get through one major piece of legislation before lawmakers begin their campaigns for re-election. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, has said he doesn’t know whether that chamber will have time to get to an infrastructure bill.

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Trump hasn’t proposed a funding source for his plan, preferring to negotiate those details with Congress. Lawmakers who attended a closed-door meeting Feb. 14 with Trump said he offered to support a 25-cent increase in the federal gas tax to help pay for his plan, but Ryan on March 7 ruled out a gas tax increase in a telephone town hall hosted by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

The House Republican decision to avoid a single infrastructure package comes as Congress is struggling to fund the first pieces of the $30 billion New York-New Jersey program known as Gateway that includes a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River linking New Jersey and Manhattan.

Trump has demanded that the spending bill needed to keep the government running after March 23 not include $900 million in funding for the project. That demand is causing headaches for negotiators attempting to bring the $1.2 trillion spending bill to the House floor next week.

The White House wouldn’t say whether Trump would veto a spending bill if it contained funding for Gateway, with a potential government shutdown looming after March 23.

Trump is concerned about the viability of the project and that New York and New Jersey have “no skin in the game,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told lawmakers in a House committee hearing on March 6. The two states have pledged mostly federal loans for their share of the funding, and that shouldn’t count as local money, Chao has said.

The Trump administration has also complained about Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York holding up confirmation of administration nominees because of a lack of commitment to the Gateway program. Schumer has said politics shouldn’t get in the way of a project critical to the northeast.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania said Trump’s demands are unclear, so he doesn’t know how the issue will be resolved by top leaders.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the lead Republican negotiator on the transportation part of the spending bill, said a compromise may be reached. A draft Senate spending bill includes money for Gateway but does not specifically direct the Transportation Department to spend the money on the project, Collins said.

With assistance by Justin Sink