In anticipation of Tuesday night’s delayed State of the Union address, the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts is promoting a video of four American mayors delving into the connection between old, tired infrastructure and increased flooding. Appearing alongside leaders from Wilmington, North Carolina, Fort Collins, Colorado and Kansas City, Missouri is East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, who obviously knows a thing or two about the subject.
While the video covers a wide range of factors that have led to increased flooding, from poor city planning to policies to that encourage rebuilding in vulnerable areas, it makes clear that investment in flood-control structures is a key piece of the puzzle.
As Broome notes in the video, “underfunding and neglect have compounded this problem for years.”
And this is where President Donald Trump could, belatedly, come in.
Fresh off a bruising partisan fight over immigration that resulted in the longest-ever (if partial) government shutdown, Trump officials are telling journalists that he hopes to use the national address to reset things.
The president plans to strike a "unifying, bipartisan and optimistic tone" during the address, an unnamed administration official promised CNBC.
That’s a tall order, given the fact that he’s threatening either another shutdown next week or a rightly controversial emergency declaration, if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats don’t cave to his demand to build a wall along the U.S./Mexico border. Other topics he expects to cover, including diplomacy and trade, have also become harshly divisive.
There’s more hope for Trump’s promise to try to tackle the cost of prescription drugs, and area in which Louisiana's U.S. senator, and physician, Bill Cassidy could play a key role.
And if pivoting really is the plan, then infrastructure spending could and should be a key component. It’s a priority that should unite the Republicans who dominate Louisiana’s delegation with Democrats such as Gov. John Bel Edwards and Broome. That makes it a perfect place to test whether bipartisanship is possible in today’s Washington.
Trump, of course, ran three years ago on a promise of massively investing in infrastructure spending. It was an out-of-the-box idea for a Republican, because GOP leaders in Congress have generally resisted big government spending programs. And indeed, during the two years that Republicans controlled both houses of Congress as well as the presidency, there were individual victories — including here in Louisiana — but there was no big nationwide initiative.
With Democrats now in charge of one branch of government, the time seems right.
Trump officials aren’t tipping their hand on what he’ll say, and the devil is always in the details. One question in need of answering is whether any proposal he makes will involve the necessary public investment, or whether his plan is to leverage private money — and if so, whether the taxpayers would get a fair deal. Another is how Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, reacts. And a third is how the government would pay for it, given the growing deficit caused by the big tax cut bill Republicans unilaterally passed during their period of one-party control.
Still, Trump’s obsession with the wall suggests he’s looking for campaign promises to keep, and infrastructure investment would fit the bill. It might even solve some very serious problems in communities across the country. How’s that for lagniappe?