Even while President Donald Trump has sought to fulfill his promises to address issues relating to immigration and trade, he has not yet announced his plans for an infrastructure program. It is an area where he may find common ground with Democrats, who may see a benefit in government spending that would create blue collar jobs and bolster labor union enrollment.
A segment of the country that might also welcome significant spending on infrastructure is made up of Latinos. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that 27.3 percent of all construction workers in 2015 were Latinos, either native-born or immigrants. Currently, Latinos constitute approximately 17 percent of the national population.
In an interview with The Hill, Erick Rodriguez of the National Council of La Raza noted that Barack Obama’’s economic stimulus spending did little to benefit Latino and black communities. It was tax credits offered by the stimulus package, he argued that allowed the two communities to spend more. “Institutional and federal investments” are smart, said Rodriguez, so long as they “generate economic activity.”
At MediaPost, columnist Roberto Siewczynski wrote that Trump’s election brought about market rallies for construction, infrastructure and defense segment that are “all labor-intensive segments that have large Latino participation.”
Averring Rodriguez’ position, Siewczynski that by encouraging companies to create jobs domestically, there will be a “positive impact on the blue-collar Latino worker” and create more disposable income for Latinos and encourage spending. “If the economy stays strong, Latino economic outlook will be positive (more homes and cars),” he wrote. He cautioned, however, that there is evidence that an uptick in infrastructure spending could also spur illegal immigration. Noting how illegal immigration appeared to plateau after the 2008 recession, Siewczynski wrote that a “stronger construction- and labor-based economy will drive a growth in undocumented immigration. After all, we live in a capitalist economy.”
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) has expressed skepticism about public spending on infrastructure projects. He told The Hill recently “everything has to be paid for.” He is a member of the House Freedom Caucus. However, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said recently that Democrats would be delighted to make “a real investment in infrastructure,” but added that she is not buying into the public-private approach which Trump and the Republicans favor. She calls that a “tax break for his rich friends.” At an annual strategy retreat, Pelosi told fellow Democrats, “So far we haven’t seen anything from the administration that would justify any kind of cooperation.” Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), who leads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said a public-private deal is a no-go. “That’s not a partnership. That’s a transfer of ownership responsibility and liability,” she said. “If it really does look like that, that’s going to be a problem, and I would guess that that would be a huge problem for the Caucus.”
Michael Sargent, writing for the Heritage Foundation, was cautionary about infrastructure spending. In a post written soon after the election, he opined, “President-elect Trump should not be taken in by hyperbolic rhetoric about the state of the nation’s infrastructure or lured by false promises of stimulus-induced job creation. Instead, he and his Administration should carefully consider the nation’s needs and the federal government’s role in meeting them. The best way for the new President to improve the nation’s infrastructure is to remove the federal government from the equation through deregulation and funding reforms, not to follow his predecessor down the path of more government spending.”
Congressional Republicans appear reluctant to talk about infrastructure spending. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in January that Congress had recently passed an expensive transportation bill. Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare,” is the first order of business for Ryan, as it was also for Vice President Mike Pence when he was asked about it in January before the inauguration.
Even Trump has said that infrastructure is not at “the core” of how he envisions his first years in the White House. “We’re going for a lot of things,” Trump said before the inauguration, “between taxes, between regulations, between health care replacement.” Infrastructure is not a significant part of his job-creation plans, he said: “I think I am doing things that are more important than infrastructure.”
So if his package is going to get a big push, lawmakers expect that it will have to come from Trump himself. “I think it’s going to be driven by the administration,” Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-SD) indicated last month. “At some point they might come and consult with us about what that might look like.”
Rep. Vic DeFazio (D-OR) suggested that fellow Democrats may circumvent Congressional Republicans in order to appeal directly to Trump, who said on the campaign trail that he wants to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. In January, DeFazio said, "We might have a dialogue with the Trump administration. I don't think we're going to have a dialogue with Republican leadership in the House. They've closed that door pretty well." Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, all of whom are Democrats and who disagree with Republicans on immigration, can be expected to push for direct dialogue with Trump on an such an issue of mutual concern.