Staffing shakeup to overshadow five Cabinet members pitching infrastructure plan to the Hill
Posted March 13, 2018 12:02 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Five Cabinet secretaries are heading to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a hearing on infrastructure, but it's likely other issues will come up amid the news that President Donald Trump is shaking up his administration.
The hearing in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is set to focus on Trump's infrastructure proposal, but amid chaos in the White House and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's firing, the secretaries will likely be asked about their own departments and their relationships with the President.
The secretaries include Elaine Chao of the Department of Transportation, Wilbur Ross of Commerce, Alexander Acosta of Labor, Sonny Perdue of Agriculture and Rick Perry of Energy. A person familiar with the matter told CNN that Trump has eyed Perry as a possible replacement for his embattled Veterans Affairs secretary, David Shulkin.
One key question Wednesday will be whether congressional Republicans are going to be able to move an infrastructure package this year. A Republican aide for the committee told CNN the current aim is to have a new legislative proposal ready by Memorial Day.
A spokesman for the committee said to the panel's knowledge, it is the first time five Cabinet secretaries have testified in a hearing at the same time since 2001.
The White House unveiled its infrastructure proposal earlier this year -- a 53-page document of proposals to turn $200 billion in federal money into $1.5 trillion for fixing America's infrastructure by leveraging local and state tax dollars and private investment.
Half of the new federal money, $100 billion, would be parceled out as incentives to local government entities.
An additional $20 billion would go toward "projects of national significance" that can "lift the American spirit," such as New York's Gateway tunnel under the Hudson River.
Another $50 billion is earmarked for rural block grants, most of which will be given to states according to a formula based on the miles of rural roads and the rural population they have. States can then spend that money on transportation, broadband, water, waste and power projects.
The rest of the money would support other infrastructure-related undertakings, including existing loan programs like the one operated by the EPA under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which White House officials said could leverage up to $40 in local and private money for every $1 in federal investment.
In particular, Acosta might get questions about workforce training programs, which Trump's budget proposed cutting funding for dramatically. They're supposed to roll out a plan to reorganize and consolidate federal programs this month.
Trump's infrastructure plan includes some proposals for training more workers, such as allowing Pell Grants to be used for short-term certificate programs and creating more opportunities for work-based learning in high school.
To that end, the White House's budget said it would "reorganize and consolidate" the $17 billion it spends on job training annually through 14 government agencies.
The National League of Cities will also be on the Hill on Wednesday pressing for Congress to actually get infrastructure done.
"This is why we're here. To make it known to the administration and to the Congress, that we're municipal leaders, and we see it and we hear about it every time we're at the park or at a grocery store," said Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, the organization's second vice president. "While they're here in DC, we're struggling with failing infrastructure."
Local groups that want the infrastructure bill have said they want to see the gas tax raised to finance infrastructure, which the Trump administration has signaled an openness to, but which the GOP generally resists.