Infrastructure Week makes a comeback: Trump eyes 'Phase IV'

Donald Trump is ready for a "very big and bold" infrastructure plan. Mitch McConnell is not.
The George Washington Bridge spans the Hudson River between Fort Lee, New Jersey and New York.
The George Washington Bridge spans the Hudson River between Fort Lee, New Jersey and New York.Mel Evans / AP file

When it comes to federal legislative responses to the coronavirus crisis, three bills were approved last month. The first came in early March, when Congress passed a relatively modest $8.3 billion emergency bill, focused on public-health infrastructure.

Almost immediately thereafter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin negotiated a second package, called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. With a price tag of roughly $100 billion, it provided, among other things, funding for free coronavirus testing, food assistance, and limited paid leave. It passed with minimal drama two weeks ago.

That, of course, led to Phase III: a $2.2 trillion economic aid package, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which the president signed into law on Friday. But even as that massive bill took shape, many policymakers realized that it was a lifeline that would help prevent economic ruin between now and the summer -- and the need for a fourth bill was quite likely.

To that end, Pelosi is already gearing up in anticipation of Phase IV, which she believes will be necessary. The Wall Street Journal reported this week on the House Speaker's vision for the next big bill.

[S]he envisions a phase-four bill that would pay for some growing workplace needs: medical leave, more protections for those at risk of infection, government funds to pay for coronavirus tests and help for pension funds at risk because of the economic jolt. Beyond that, the legislation would have a bigger goal: fund improvements in America's infrastructure, including its health and digital infrastructure, both badly taxed in the current crisis. Infrastructure projects produce instant economic activity and jobs, but are in danger of shutting down as state and local governments use whatever money they have to cope with the skyrocketing costs of coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

For his part, Donald Trump hasn't been shy in expressing his contempt for the California Democrat, but he apparently heard about Pelosi's vision and publicly expressed some support for one of its core elements.

"With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill," the president wrote on Twitter. "It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4."

At first blush, when Trump and Pelosi both signal support for a similar priority, it may be tempting to think real progress will follow. In this case, however, that would be the wrong assumption.

In fact, Trump and Pelosi have both supported a major infrastructure initiative for years. The reason nothing has happened on this front is opposition from congressional Republicans, who've repeatedly forced the White House to back off.

With this in mind, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) yesterday appeared cool to the very idea of a Phase IV plan, telling conservative host Hugh Hewitt, "Let's see how things are going and respond accordingly. I'm not going to allow this to be an opportunity for the Democrats to achieve unrelated policy items that they would not otherwise be able to pass."

The first three emergency bills were relatively easy lifts. A fourth would likely be more challenging.