On the eve of talks with Congressional Democrats at the White House on financing plans for a major infrastructure bill, President Donald Trump told top Democrats that before agreeing to any plan for roads and bridges, he first wants the House and Senate to approve a new trade deal involving the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
"Before we get to infrastructure, it is my strong view that Congress should first pass the important and popular USMCA trade deal," the President wrote in a letter to the House Speaker and Senate Democratic Leader on Tuesday.
"Once Congress has passed USMCA, we should turn our attention to a bipartisan infrastructure package," Mr. Trump added.
Prospects for the updated NAFTA agreement - which still has not been submitted to the Congress for a vote - seemed to improve last week when GOP Senators forced the President to roll back tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from Mexico and Canada, allowing the White House to focus even more on getting support from Democrats for the new trade deal.
"It will benefit farmers, manufacturing workers, unions, and businesses throughout our great nation," the President added in his letter.
On infrastructure, agreement between the White House and Democrats on how to fund up to $2 trillion in new projects remains as hazy as it was several weeks ago when the two sides met, as the simple issue of money has derailed efforts for well over a decade to move large road and bridge packages through Congress.
While Mr. Trump has talked about a 'big and bold infrastructure bill,' his letter only talked about how Democrats need to come up with how to fund the cost.
"It would be helpful if you came to tomorrow's meeting with your infrastructure priorities and specifics regarding how much funding you would dedicate to each," the President wrote - without giving any guidance on the details of his plan.
Democrats said the same thing in return.
“On Wednesday, we look forward to hearing the President’s plan for how to pay for this package,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer in a joint statement.
“Three weeks ago, we were pleased to have had a productive meeting with the President, during which he agreed to a $2 trillion plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure and to provide ideas for pay-fors” - that's a term used in Washington to describe how you're going to 'pay for' something.
The most direct way to do that would be to raise federal gasoline taxes - but those have not been changed since 1993, and are a difficult sale for members of both parties.
Trump White House budget officials said earlier this year that they would let Congress 'fill in the blanks' on the cost of an infrastructure bill.