WASHINGTON — President Trump said Tuesday that a $2 trillion infrastructure package should be part of Congress’s next response to the coronavirus pandemic, reviving a 2016 campaign pledge to ramp up construction projects despite public health guidance that Americans should stay home and isolated to the greatest extent possible.
Citing extraordinarily low interest rates that have reduced the cost of federal borrowing, Trump said on Twitter that now ‘‘is the time’’ to push forward with an infrastructure package in response to the severe economic downturn caused by the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. Numerous House Democrats have also discussed in recent weeks advancing infrastructure legislation as part of their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
‘‘With interest rates for the United States being at ZERO, this is the time to do our decades long awaited Infrastructure Bill,’’ Trump wrote on Twitter. ‘‘It should be VERY BIG & BOLD, Two Trillion Dollars, and be focused solely on jobs and rebuilding the once great infrastructure of our Country! Phase 4.’’
But lawmakers, for more than three years now, have failed to break meaningful ground on bipartisan infrastructure talks, making the issue something of a longstanding joke on Capitol Hill. Some experts pointed out that a pandemic may be a poor time to ramp up construction projects, given that federal health officials are urging workers to stay home if possible and avoid personal contact.
His ‘‘Phase 4’’ comment refers to the fact that Congress has passed three bills in response to problems created by the outbreak of the coronavirus, with the most recent law enacted on Friday. That law directs more than $2 trillion in spending for emergency assistance to companies, new $1,200 payments to millions of Americans, assistance for airlines, state unemployment programs, and a host of other groups.
The president offered no additional specifics about his infrastructure idea, and a White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for more details.
On Tuesday morning, shortly before the tweet, Trump spoke with Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, about the need for a massive, $2 trillion package that would include revamping the nation’s roads, bridges, tunnels, and ports, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
Barrasso chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works, which unanimously cleared a highway bill last year that greenlights $287 billion in infrastructure spending over five years and is the most substantial legislation of its kind in history.
But Trump’s vision of an infrastructure bill would build on that highway bill, according to the person familiar with the call with Barrasso, and its mission would be to ‘‘renovate and rebuild America while putting America back to work.’’
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts, stepped up talks on an infrastructure deal in February, but those negotiations were derailed by the widening impact of the coronavirus pandemic.