The late Steve LaTourette came into Congress as part of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 conservative revolution. The Ohio Republican was a party loyalist but not an ideologue. He thought government ought to do such revolutionary things as build roads and bridges. So when I asked him why he decided to quit Congress in 2012, he had a ready answer: “Because we couldn’t even pass a highway bill anymore.”
LaTourette, who died in 2016, was part of an informal group sometimes known as “Building Trades Republicans,” a band that believed constructing stuff and paying construction workers well were good ideas. He was also on the Appropriations Committee, and appropriators have historically embraced a give-and-take with Democrats to finance projects both sides could brag about. LaTourette really liked infrastructure.
I thought of him last week when President Trump blew up his meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer . The gathering was supposed to be the follow-up to their earlier “agreement” on a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. You need those scare quotes because Trump was obviously not ready to agree on anything.
The headline writers were not wrong to focus on Trump’s ridiculous declarations that as long as House Democrats try to hold him accountable (i.e., do their jobs), he would stop governing with them. Period. Pout, pout. Never mind that — unless he wants the entire government to collapse around him — Trump will eventually have to deal with Democrats to pass a budget and his U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade accord.
But Trump’s theatrics were also very convenient because they disguised the fact that he cannot now, or ever, deliver on his signature promise to create a “great” infrastructure program. This is why Trump “infrastructure weeks” have become a standing joke in Washington. LaTourette was right: The Republican Party is no longer interested in spending public money to solve big problems if doing so gets in the way of cutting taxes.
LaTourette explained this in his rough-and-ready way back in 2011 when he called the 2010 tea party class of Republicans “knuckledraggers that came in in the last election that hate taxes.”