The GOP's devious infrastructure bill

(AP Photo/Molly Riley, File)

Much like Groundhog Day, it’s infrastructure week… again. Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar “infrastructure” bill still appears to be going nowhere fast in the upper chamber, so Senate Republicans have been quietly working on their own version in hopes of finding some sort of compromise with the Democrats. The huge bill that Chuck Schumer is pushing is packed to the gills with liberal wishlist items that have nothing to do with actual infrastructure and contains a lot of funding that won’t be spent for years. In response, Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia has been working with the small group of GOP members who met with Joe Biden earlier this month to hammer out the details of a more modest proposal. Capito is attempting the radical and devious approach of creating an infrastructure spending bill that actually focuses on… infrastructure. (I know. I was shocked too.) It has money for roads, bridges, airports and water treatment facilities, along with some newer items that are badly in need of attention. The truly shocking part is that the proposal actually includes ways to pay for all of this work. The Democrats, of course, are unlikely to have any interest in such trickery. (The Hill)

Senate Republicans on Tuesday discussed the outlines of a scaled-down infrastructure bill they say could pass the Democratic-led Congress with strong bipartisan support.

The entire Senate GOP conference during its weekly lunch meeting discussed the emerging proposal after getting a briefing from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Capito is leading negotiations among a smaller group of GOP moderates who met with President Biden earlier this year. The group held a meeting late afternoon Monday to narrow Biden’s proposed $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan into something in the range of $600 billion to $800 billion.

In addition to the standard items I mentioned above, the GOP bill would include funding for expanded broadband and modernization of the electric grid. I’m still not sure if general broadband access qualifies as infrastructure or not, but it’s certainly closer to it than much of the grab bag contained in the Democrats’ bill. But modernizing our electric grid is something I’ve been carping about here for years. The ability to have a smart grid that can shut down in sections to avoid massive brownouts is critical. And it’s going to be even more crucial if Biden and his pals manage to pass a lot of their “green energy” initiatives designed to gut our ability to produce electricity through traditional natural gas and other fossil fuel resources. Such a move could also reduce the risk of wildfires in places like California.

The bill would be paid for by a series of user fees and repurposing some of the $350 billion in state aid that was passed recently, allowing the states to use some of the money on infrastructure projects. There would be no increase to the gas tax included. The major hindrance to the GOP’s bill ever seeing the light of day at this point is Chuck Schumer, however. As The Hill reports, Schumer is looking at one of two options, neither of which is going to be appealing to the Senate GOP.

The first option is to accept that the Republicans’ bill contains most of the actual infrastructure work in the Democrats’ bill without all of the liberal bells and whistles. If the two sides could agree on those parts, Schumer could (possibly) gain enough GOP votes to pass it without worrying about the filibuster. That would be a huge victory for Biden. But then he could simply take all the rest of the liberal wishlist items and put them into a second bill later this year and try to pass it via reconciliation with no GOP support.

The second option is to declare that the way the Republicans want to pay for the bill is unacceptable and just shut down the negotiations. The Democrats would then move forward with their reconciliation scheme. That would be awkward in terms of the political optics, but the Democrats have already demonstrated that they’re willing to go it alone and they’ll probably do it again on the infrastructure bill if that’s what it takes to get their way.

No matter which path is chosen, somebody should probably purchase a few more asbestos blankets to wrap around the magical money tree in the Rose Garden. I have a feeling that a lot more cash is going to be going up in smoke before the year is out.