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Be Wary of a Trump-Led Infrastructure Bank

There’s a lot to like about the concept in general, but that doesn’t mean policymakers should buy in.
A national infrastructure bank? Could be huge.
A national infrastructure bank? Could be huge. Jim Bourg/Reuters

President-elect Donald Trump may attempt to establish a national infrastructure bank, a key member of his transition team said last week. You may have heard this idea before: On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton’s proposed “i-bank” as being “controlled by politicians and bureaucrats in Washington” and bankrolled by a “$275 billion tax increase on American businesses.” Those are familiar conservative criticisms of the notion of a national infrastructure bank—the words alone (national! bank!) seem to make Republicans recoil, as Politico pointed out last year.

But it isn’t too surprising that Trump took a liking to the idea (and not just because he’s coming around to other liberal-backed policies). Far from a venue for federal hand-outs, an infrastructure bank is supposed to encourage public-private partnerships on projects selected for their ability to return on loans—in addition to meeting key national objectives. What the Trump team has articulated so far in the way of a plan suggests that this administration will lean heavily on private partners to fuel Trump’s much-talked-about $1 trillion spending bonanza.