A few months ago, Donald Trump put his young and inexperienced son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of a newly created White House Office of American Innovation. The idea, reportedly, was for Kushner, his ties to the Russia scandal notwithstanding, to lead "a SWAT team of strategic consultants," who'd collectively craft solutions to assorted challenges, all while answering only to the president.
Vanity Fair reported this week on Team Kushner's progress.
"We've been working in partnership with the National Economic Council on all aspects of the infrastructure package and taking the lead role in certain aspects of it," one White House official told me about the Office of American Innovation's work. Members of the O.A.I. meet with either the National Economic Council, legislators, or private-sector experts every day to tackle various aspects of the plan.In terms of infrastructure and jobs, the team plans to focus on four areas. The first is reforming the permit system for large-scale projects, which, as it stands, can take more than eight years to push through (one goal is to get this closer to two years). The second is what the O.A.I. calls "transformative projects," or cutting-edge solutions that would "unleash a significant amount of economic growth," the official explained, such as building an underground high-speed rail system across the Northeast corridor. Third, is an emphasis on building rural technology, like broadband networks. And last, the team is focused on retraining American workers to address the growing skills-gap problem that the White House says has left hundreds of thousands of jobs unfilled.
The White House's infrastructure plan is already overdue, but Kushner and his "SWAT team of strategic consultants" are apparently moving forward with a series of "transformative" ideas.
And that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, except the plan sounds awfully familiar.
Barack Obama's White House, for example, championed a high-speed rail system across much of the country, but the plan met fierce and immediate opposition from Republicans at the state and federal level. Not only would GOP members of Congress not invest in the projects, but Republican governors such as Florida's Rick Scott and Wisconsin's Scott Walker balked at accepting money for high-speed rail projects that had already been allocated.
As for focusing on job-training programs, that too was a Democratic priority in the Obama era, but even putting that aside, Kushner and his colleagues may want to take a look at the Trump administration's budget plan, which slashes funding in job training.
It's not that Kushner is on the wrong track. On the contrary, as a substantive matter, the Office of American Innovation seems to be kicking around some credible ideas. The trouble is, they're ideas Kushner's father-in-law and his party have no use for.