A White House official briefed representatives from more than a dozen conservative groups on Thursday, hoping to bring them into the fold as the administration readies to push its $1 trillion infrastructure vision forward, two people who attended the meeting told POLITICO.
The meeting marks the start of what will be a lengthy campaign to sell the infrastructure package, which has already come under criticism from Democrats and some fiscal conservatives. People who attended the meeting said the White House is expected to unveil more details next week.
Alex Herrgott, the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s associate director for infrastructure, held the meeting. He took pains to assure attendees that the administration is embracing a conservative approach to fixing the nation’s roads and bridges, drawing a contrast between former President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus. The administration is no doubt eager to avoid such comparisons, which have already been floated and, in some quarters, pilloried.
"It’s a substantively different approach than the top-down stimulus," said one person who participated in the meeting, though the person said conservative groups still want to review the specifics of any pending bills before they endorse the effort.
"The biggest question facing conservative organizations is how we can balance the infrastructure needs of the country in a way that protects taxpayers and reigns in regulations," the person added.
The other person who attended the meeting said Herrgott took questions from participants and vowed to continue talking with the groups.
Fiscal conservative groups have long been skeptical about massive federal infrastructure spending, especially if it is deficit-driven. And while Republicans were initially shocked by the $1 trillion price tag attached to Trump’s proposal, they were heartened to see that a summary of the plan, which was included in the president’s budget request, calls for $200 billion in direct federal spending over the next decade paired with incentives to encourage state and private funding.
Sources said representatives from the following groups attended: Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Tax Reform, State Policy Network, American Legislative Exchange Council, National Taxpayers Union, FreedomWorks, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, American Council for Capital Formation, Concerned Veterans for America, The LIBRE Initiative, Generation Opportunity, Taxpayer Protection Alliance and the American Conservative Union.
The meeting took place at Americans for Prosperity’s offices in Virginia.
A White House spokeswoman and Herrgott, the former deputy staff director on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, did not respond to a request for comment.