Trump backs 25-cent gasoline tax hike: congressional aides
President Donald Trump delivered a televised statement a day after returning from a marathon trip to Asia. (AFP / Nicholas Kamm)

U.S. President Donald Trump endorsed a 25-cent hike in the federal gasoline tax in a meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday about funding his infrastructure spending proposal, congressional aides said.

Two congressional aides confirmed a report by publication Axios that Trump had backed an increase. Democratic Senator Tom Carper, who attended the meeting, told CNN that Trump was open to a 25-cent increase in gas and diesel taxes.

"He said he knew it was a difficult thing for legislators to support and said that he would ... provide the political cover to do that," Carper said, according to a CNN reporter's tweet.

The White House did not confirm or deny that Trump backed a gasoline tax hike in the meeting.

A White House official noted that Trump "has said everything is on the table" to achieve infrastructure improvements. "The gas tax has its pros and cons, and that’s why the president is leading a thoughtful discussion on the right way to solve our nation’s infrastructure problems," the official added.

Trump expressed confidence on Wednesday that a deal could be reached. "This is an issue where I really believe we can find common ground between Republicans and Democrats," he said.

Democrats insist any infrastructure plan must include new revenue. The federal gasoline tax has been 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993, and inflation as well as rising vehicle fuel efficiency have reduced its usefulness in raising enough money to keep pace with repair needs.

Congress has transferred nearly $140 billion to the Highway Trust Fund from 2008 through 2015. Lawmakers, to maintain current spending levels, would need to approve an additional $107 billion from 2021 through 2026.

Trump has not previously ruled out a gasoline tax hike and some in Congress have said they are open to the idea but that Trump would need to provide cover to win approval for the politically risky move.

Other Republicans in Congress say a gas tax hike has little or no chance of approval.

Last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed hiking fuel taxes by 25 cents a gallon, which it said would raise $394 billion over the next 10 years.

Trump wants to use $200 billion in federal funds to try to stimulate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure improvements over 10 years but would cut an equivalent amount in projected infrastructure spending from the federal budget as it shifted more costs to states and cities.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney)