By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate's second highest-ranking Republican on Tuesday expressed doubt that Congress will pass legislation to increase infrastructure spending this year, citing time constraints.
Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told reporters: "I think it will (be) challenging. I certainly would be happy if we could, but we’ve got a lot of things to do, that being one of them, and I don’t know if we will have time to get to that," according to a transcript from his office.
President Donald Trump wants Congress to approve $200 billion in federal spending over 10 years designed to spur $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending. But the bill faces strong opposition from Democrats. Under Senate rules, legislation will need the support of at least nine Democrats.
Congress is grappling with a number of big issues including gun law reforms, immigration and budget issues that make it harder to find time to debate infrastructure spending this year.
Asked about Cornyn's comments, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said officials are "encouraged to see Congress acting on the President’s call, with hearings starting in earnest."
Congress is holding at least four hearings on infrastructure over the next two weeks, including a House session Tuesday on energy infrastructure. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and R.D. James, the assistant Secretary of the Army for civil works, will testify before a Senate panel on Thursday.
After a school shooting in Florida, Trump canceled a Feb. 16 speech on infrastructure in Orlando and the White House has not rescheduled it.
Earlier this month, Trump endorsed hiking the federal gasoline tax by 25 cents a gallon in a meeting with lawmakers, Democratic Senator Tom Carper said. The gasoline tax would generate new revenue for infrastructure, primarily highways and other road projects.
The 18.4-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline has not been hiked since 1993.
Some in Congress say they are open to the idea of increasing the gasoline tax but Trump would need to provide cover to win approval for the politically risky move. Other Senate Republicans have come out firmly against a hike.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)