Ex-CBO director surveys road ahead for Trump's trillion-dollar infrastructure plan

Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin delivers remarks during a forum hosted by the Congressional Health Care Caucus on Capitol Hill October 26, 2009 in Washington. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Story highlights

  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin runs the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank
  • He described how Donald Trump's infrastructure plan might not be as costly as it seems

Party People is a new podcast from CNN where a pair of conservative CNN contributors talk to influential voices about the future of conservatism and the Republican party.

(CNN)Of President-elect Donald Trump's many campaign promises, the one with the trillion-dollar price tag might end up being an easier one to sell.

So thinks former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin who told CNN's "Party People" podcast hosts Kevin Madden and Mary Katherine Ham in a recent conversation that the real estate mogul might find congressional leaders and even some Democrats open to his proposal, which he wants to use to fix the nation's roads, bridges, airports and other aspects of the country's "rotting" infrastructure.
"Trump's a dealmaker," said Holtz-Eakin, who now runs the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. "I would not describe Barack Obama as an instinctive dealmaker."
    Holtz-Eakin said that both House Speaker Paul Ryan and incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer like "to get things done," saying the "odd man out" in congressional negotiations could be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he described as "not super enthusiastic about a big agenda."
    Holtz-Eakin envisioned a scenario, in which, Trump's campaign promise of stricter immigration policy meets resistance on Capitol Hill and his infrastructure plan is offered as a palatable compromise to Democrats.
    "That would set them up pretty well," he said. "I can see him doing that."
    Trump has repeatedly promised on the campaign trail massive investment in infrastructure spending, though his plans have -- like many of his proposals -- lacked specifics. In August, Trump told Fox Business Network that he would "at least double" Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's plan to spend $275 billion on infrastructure over five years.
    When Trump was asked about the trillion-dollar figure during his post election meeting with the New York Times, the President-elect responded with, "Let's see if I get it done," before reminding his audience that many in the media and his own party had underestimated him only to watch him surprise them.
    Holtz-Eakin said that as Trump's plan is currently proposed the majority of the trillion-dollar figure is "leveraged with a whole bunch of outside private money," meaning the government would be on the hook for a number closer to $180 billion.
    "They're not asking ... a House of Representatives to pass a trillion-dollar bill," he said. "They're asking them to pass something that's basically a fifth or less of that, and if they stick to that architecture, that's a lot less objectionable to people."
      To hear Holtz-Eakin's thoughts on Trump's tax reform plan, how Trump might actually keep his promise to "drain the swamp" of Washington, and what indicators this economist is looking for this holiday season, listen to CNN's "Party People" podcast.
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