Trump, Democrats signal interest in infrastructure for “Phase 4” stimulus

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted about a possible federal infrastructure bill worth $2 trillion that would presumably serve as, or as part of, a “Phase 4” stimulus package amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was joined by U.S. Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) to outline priorities around the next stimulus. According to the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), infrastructure investment for water could be included in the package.

The positive news for infrastructure comes on the heels of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by the president just last Friday — the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history.

Trump, speaking at his daily coronavirus task force briefing Tuesday evening, reiterated that low interest rates could allow the federal government more flexibility in borrowing in order to finance infrastructure spending. Pelosi has also mentioned the prospect of an infrastructure package last week, citing broadband and water as two areas in which funding are needed and relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Bloomberg News.

Phase 3 Excludes Water Infrastructure

The U.S. water utility sector has expressed disappointment in the exclusion of direct water/wastewater relief in last week’s $2.2 trillion “Phase 3” stimulus. On the wastewater side alone, NACWA said the clean water sector is projecting a 20 percent loss in revenue due to COVID-19. It estimates financial losses will be at least $12.5 billion, a low-end estimate. “The decision to not include meaningful support for this sector is shameful,” NACWA CEO Adam Krantz said.

On the drinking water side, many utilities around the country have put water shutoffs for nonpayment on hold and have restored service to delinquent accounts during the crisis to ensure customers have access to water.

Stimulus package excludes financial relief for water sector

But on Wednesday, things appeared more optimistic as both Trump and Democrats now seem open to a major deal on infrastructure in light of the coronavirus crisis.

“America’s public clean water sector appreciates the bipartisan focus President Trump and Speaker Pelosi have placed on infrastructure investment to help the nation recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially investment in water infrastructure,” Krantz said. “The Nation’s public clean water utilities have tens of billions of dollars of construction projects in the pipeline that could [employ] thousands of Americans, and we look forward to working with the Administration and Congress to help craft a stimulus and recovery package that will help get Americans back to work and stimulate the economy.”

EPA urges states to support water, wastewater operations amid coronavirus crisis

Organizations like NACWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), which represents U.S. drinking water authorities, said they are looking for a Phase 4 stimulus to include financial assistance to costs associated with any moratorium on water service disconnections and funding to assist with utilities’ operational costs as revenues decrease. AMWA said the next stimulus bill appears to be at least several weeks away.

Infrastructure in the Trump Era

A plan for comprehensive infrastructure funding was one of Trump’s campaign pledges leading up to the 2016 election, but the discussion has largely stalled throughout his presidency.

In early 2018, the White House unveiled a $1.5 billion infrastructure investment plan after calling for a new commitment to rebuilding America’s infrastructure. The administration at the time released a 53-page document detailing its legislative outline for the plan, which included: a call for $200 billion in federal funding to spur at least $1.5 trillion in investments; a $50 billion investment in infrastructure for rural America; greater empowerment of state and local authorities; elimination of barriers that prevent efficient development of projects; more streamlined permitting; and more. Trump has also called for an infrastructure package to engage private sector dollars to help close the investment gap.

In May 2019, Democrats in Congress proposed an infrastructure plan with a $2 trillion price tag. But talks with the Trump administration ultimately fizzled. Other political issues like immigration, trade and additional investigations into the president, culminating in December’s impeachment proceedings, have since made it difficult to reach bipartisan agreements on major issues. But infrastructure is generally considered a bipartisan issue where progress can be made.

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