President Trump urged Congress to bring back lawmaker-sponsored project "earmarks" and use them to build support for legislation, at a time his administration is weighing how and when to roll out a long-delayed infrastructure investment plan.
Trump made his earmark comments during a White House session with members of Congress from both parties to negotiate an immigration issue that is holding up budget talks.
But the congressionally designated appropriations for individual projects have long been associated as well with transportation construction efforts, decried by some as wasteful "pork" spending and supported by many who say putting in earmarks helped lawmakers enlist colleagues to vote for their legislation.
Congress stopped allowing them in 2011, after various examples aroused public ire.
In particular, some transportation stakeholders say it is harder to pass infrastructure investment bills when lawmakers cannot show their voters that they won funding for specific projects back home.
Trump, noting that Republicans and Democrats often square off over issues instead of working together and negotiating, said the current system breeds more hostility among lawmakers.
"In the old days of earmarks," he said, "you can say what you want about certain presidents and others, where they all talk about they went out to dinner at night and they all got along, and they passed bills. That was an earmark system, and maybe we should think about it."
He continued talking about that issue as reporters and TV cameras recorded the session.
"We have to put better controls [on earmarks than before] because it got a little bit out of hand," Trump said, "but maybe that brings people together. Because our system right now, the way it's set up, will never bring people together . . . but maybe you should start bringing back a concept of earmarks. It's going to bring you together.
"You're going to do it honestly. You're going to get rid of the problems that the other system had — and it did have some problems. But one thing it did is it brought everyone together. And this country has to be brought together."
The president's proposal came amid days in which he and advisers have been meeting with lawmakers to plan their 2018 agenda, including when to unveil the infrastructure package and how to pay for it.
Various news reports said lawmakers now expect the Trump team to roll it out around or after Trump's Jan. 30 "State of the Union" speech.
In addition, the Washington Post reported that Trump has been raising the possibility of hiking the federal gasoline tax to as much as 50 cents a gallon – from 18.4 cents now, and 24.4 cents for diesel – to pay for a major increase in project investments.
A number of stakeholder groups, including the American Trucking Associations and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have said they support raising fuel taxes as a user fee for transportation project spending. The White House has left the door open for that funding option despite opposition from congressional GOP leaders.
The Post said Trump raised the gas tax hike issue during a White House meeting weeks ago with House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and again at the Jan. 6-7 Camp David meetings with Republican leaders.
The story said that Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who was at Camp David, would not say who raised the subject but that Republicans made clear they opposed the idea.
"I'm sure it came up in some context because that's what a lot of people have proposed at different times," Cornyn said. "But I have complete confidence that we will not be raising the gas tax," he told the Post.
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