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Trump Wants $1.5 Trillion for Infrastructure; One Fourth for Rural Projects

After declaring “America is a nation of builders,” President Trump asked Congress to write a bill that would fund $1.5 trillion in “gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land” — much of it financed by state, local, and private-sector money. A quarter of the federal funds would be earmarked for rural projects, including broadening access to high-speed internet service, said the White House.

“Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process — getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one,” said the president. “I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve.”

A rural prosperity report delivered to Trump early this month listed universal rural access to broadband service as a springboard for economic growth. For years, farm and agribusiness groups have called for updated roads and an overhaul of the nation’s inland waterways. Much of the navigation system on the Upper Mississippi River, for example, was built during the Depression. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce backs an increase in the federal fuel tax — it would be the first increase in a quarter century — to help pay for infrastructure projects.

In a fact sheet, the White House envisioned infrastructure spending that would be spread over a decade. Trump said that “every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private-sector investment.” The fact sheet did not specify the federal contribution. A week ago, a leaked document said the administration would seek $200 billion in grants over 10 years. The federal government now pays a larger share of the cost of infrastructure work.

Trump promised to “fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones” that are “fair and, very important, reciprocal.” He reiterated the four-point immigration plan unveiled last week that includes merit-based immigration but was silent on undocumented immigrants, including farmworkers, already in the country.

“Agriculture must be part of President Trump’s proposal for merit-based immigration,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “While we must do more to secure our borders, the fact remains that our farmers and ranchers need access to agriculture labor they can depend on.”

The head of the National Farmers Union, Roger Johnson, urged the administration and Congress to move quickly on a comprehensive infrastructure package. “There is clearly a growing need for significant federal investment in our nation’s roads, rails, broadband, locks, and dams,” said Johnson.

Three dozen Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, sent Trump a letter in support of modernizing NAFTA. Negotiations are moving more slowly than hoped, and Trump has repeatedly suggested he may withdraw from the tri-national trade agreement. “You have the opportunity to unleash the American economy like no president has done before and fuel historic growth,” said the letter. “Modernizing NAFTA to increase market access, expand energy exports to maximize domestic energy production, and including provisions on intellectual property and e-commerce will make this agreement even more beneficial to the United States.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was the “designated survivor,” the member of the cabinet who does not attend the speech and would be in place to lead the government in case of catastrophe at the Capitol.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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