Other than shouting about building a wall on the US-Mexico border, one of Donald Trump’s most frequently proclaimed promises on the 2016 campaign trail was the launching of a half-trillion-dollar plan to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure (employing large numbers of workers in the process). Eighteen months into his administration, no credible proposal for anything near that scale has been made. To the extent that the Trump administration has a plan at all for public investment, it involves pumping up Pentagon spending, not investing in roads, bridges, transportation, better Internet access, or other pressing needs of the civilian economy.
Not that President Trump hasn’t talked about investing in infrastructure. Last February, he even proposed a scheme that, he claimed, would boost the country’s infrastructure with $1.5 trillion in spending over the next decade. With a typical dose of hyperbole, he described it as “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.”
Analysts from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania—Trump’s alma mater—beg to differ. They note that the plan actually involves only $200 billion in direct federal investment, less than one-seventh of the total promised. According to Wharton’s experts, much of the extra spending, supposedly leveraged from the private sector as well as state and local governments, will never materialize. In addition, were such a plan launched, it would, they suggest, fall short of its goal by a cool trillion dollars. In the end, the spending levels Trump is proposing would have “little to no impact” on the nation’s gross domestic product. To add insult to injury, the president has exerted next to no effort to get even this anemic proposal through Congress, where it’s now dead in the water.
There is, however, one area of federal investment on which Trump and the Congress have worked overtime with remarkable unanimity to increase spending: the Pentagon, which is slated to receive more than $6 trillion over the next decade. This year alone increases will bring total spending on the Pentagon and related agencies (like the Department of Energy where work on nuclear warheads takes place) to $716 billion. That $6-trillion, 10-year figure represents more than 30 times as much direct spending as the president’s $200 billion infrastructure plan.