No Peace, No Ceasefire — Only a Truce

A revelation has come to Washington. Peace isn’t so hard to achieve; you just have to stop shooting.

That’s what happened on Tuesday at the White House when President Donald Trump and senior administration officials met with Democratic leaders to talk about infrastructure. To the general amazement, not a shot was fired. No talk about investigations, subpoenas, immigration or any of the other battlefield issues that have made constructive engagement virtually impossible for two years.

Instead, President Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to spend $2 trillion for the overdue national fixit.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders described the meeting as “excellent and productive” and said Mr. Trump “looks forward to working together in a bipartisan way.”

“It was a very constructive meeting. It’s clear that both the White House and all of us want to get something done on infrastructure in a big and bold way,” Schumer told reporters at the White House. “And there was goodwill in this meeting … which is a very good thing.”

Mr. Trump told the gathering that he likes the number $2 trillion, which sounds better than $1.9 trillion, another number that had been suggested, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

In fact, the president’s amenability to such an amount is something to be marveled at, given that until now the talking point has been the $200 billion plan the administration introduced in February of last year.

But that figure — which was to be complemented by private sector contributions to bring it up to the $1 trillion Trump proposed in 2016 — was unceremoniously relegated to the official memory hole.

“It was a nonstarter from the beginning, I’m not aware of a single Republican legislator who supported that proposal,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair Peter DeFazio, who belittled the bill drafted by Mr. Trump’s former infrastructure man, D.J. Gribbin, as a “thought paper.” (No offense to intellectuals.) Nor did Mr. Trump speak up for it at Tuesday’s meeting.

Speculation about why Pelosi and Schumer agreed to check assault weapons at the door was immediate. Like when the power drilling ceases and you look around wondering where the thundering silence is coming from.

The liberal news site Vox quoted Democrats who said it comes from a recognition that “the American people are sick and tired of a dysfunctional Congress that doesn’t seem to get anything done.” Nearly 65 percent of the public supports infrastructure spending, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.

As Pelosi said on Tuesday, “We are here to do something for the American people … We cannot ignore the needs of the American people as we go forward.”

In other words, Democrats theorize that Trump-bashing alone will not get them what they want in 2020; for that they will have to do something positive. Hence, the novel approach of following up on campaign promises to repair the crumbling infrastructure while there’s still something left standing to fix.

Properly understood, this is not peace; it’s not even a formal ceasefire. It’s merely a truce, in which the belligerents agree informally and temporarily to stop shooting.

Here too, there are no illusions about the ongoing investigations into the administration; they will keep on going. This is just a pause to pay respect to civilized behavior.

Unaccustomed as contemporary politicians are to civilized behavior, the truce could easily dissolve into battling over the issues of cost, the “pay-fors,” as Schumer termed it on Tuesday.

Where will the $2 trillion come from? The conferees thought of that too. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said there would be another infrastructure meeting in three weeks “to discuss specific proposals and financing methods.”

That’s three weeks to resolve the dispute over whether to finance it by increasing gas taxes (Republicans) or scaling back tax cuts for the wealthy (Democrats). Plenty of opportunity to start shooting again.

Still, one should not dismiss the potential benefits of a truce on infrastructure. Much can be accomplished. Especially while there is publicly acknowledged goodwill on both sides, and a sense that now is the time to act.

Indeed, a certain momentum could be created for doing more than one something for the American people. Sanders noted that Mr. Trump and the Democrats would also meet soon to discuss the bipartisan goal of lowering prescription drug prices.

Isn’t amazing how a little bipartisanship clears the mind?