Infrastructure bill limps over the finish line

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

In the end, months of high drama and acrimony inside the Democratic Party wound up being essentially for nothing. Late in the night, the House finally passed the infrastructure bill with the small amount of bipartisan support that it had from the beginning and very few substantial changes to the original content. The moderate Democrats in the House scored another win over Pramila Jayapal and the Progressive Caucus by passing it without the reconciliation bill passing at the same time. It still wasn’t a unanimous showing for the Democrats, however. Six of them, the group commonly known as “the squad,” held out and voted against it. The House moderates won another concession, agreeing to eventually vote for the massive reconciliation bill, but reserving the right to vote against it unless the CBO finishes scoring it and the total cost comes in at or under the numbers Biden has been promising. (Bloomberg)

The House on Friday passed the biggest U.S. infrastructure package in decades, marking a victory for President Joe Biden and unleashing $550 billion of fresh spending on roads, bridges, public transit and other projects in coming years.

The vote was 228-206 and sends the legislation to Biden for his signature. It capped a day in which Speaker Nancy Pelosi was forced to deal with a last-minute standoff between party progressives and moderates that took hours of intense negotiations and the president’s intervention to resolve.

Passage capped a day in which Speaker Nancy Pelosi was forced to deal with a last-minute standoff between party progressives and moderates that took hours of intense negotiations and the president’s intervention to resolve.

The president, in a statement early Saturday, called the bill’s passage “a monumental step forward as a nation.”

Having lost the votes of AOC, Omar and the rest of the squad, the bill wouldn’t have passed without the limited GOP support it received. That has to be a bit of a blow to both Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, who were hoping to demonstrate their negotiating skills and broker a deal. They came close, but not quite close enough in the end.

Obviously, not everyone is celebrating the passage of this fairly routine bill. Some Republicans expressed fears that the agreement would unlock the path forward for the bloated reconciliation bill. That may or may not turn out to be true, particularly with the moderate Dems still watching the final cost of the measure. (Not to mention the inconvenient fact that the full bill isn’t even written yet.) Philip Klein at National Review was clearly not thrilled with this development to say the least. He called it “disgraceful” on the part of the GOP members who supported it.

Just before midnight on Friday, we witnessed an utterly disgraceful act by a group of 13 House Republicans. Given the chance to deal a severe blow to President Biden’s flailing agenda, they instead rescued him by providing Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the votes she needed to overcome resistance from the far Left of her party…

This is a substantively bad decision that is political malpractice. It represents a betrayal.

The federal government already spends more than enough on infrastructure to meet our needs and the COVID-19 bailout money left many states awash in cash. Despite promises, only a small portion of the bill focuses on traditional infrastructure such as fixing roads and bridges and the legislation (soon to be law) will add $256 billion to deficits. It will also help grease the wheels for the passage of the larger multi-trillion welfare bill that will expand Medicare and Obamacare, initiate a federal takeover of preschool and child care, and impose economically devastating tax increases on individuals and businesses.

Klein goes on to call for all of the Republicans who voted for the bill and are not already retiring to be primaried and replaced with “candidates who will actually resist the Left-wing agenda.”

While Klein’s angst over this is understandable, I simply don’t agree with his apparent assessment that there was still a total Republican victory on the table which has now been squandered. It’s true that without the 13 Republicans, the bill would not have passed last night. But as much as AOC and her pals love to hog the spotlight and flaunt ‘muh progressive principles‘ for their far-left followers, there was simply no way that they were going to allow their party to march into 2022 with absolutely nothing to show for all of their efforts. At best, they would have stymied the infrastructure bill until the CBO finished scoring the reconciliation package. If it was still over the limits demanded by the moderates, Biden and Pelosi would have found something to lop off to get it down to the required amount and both of the bills would have passed with no GOP support anyway.

Klein’s argument against adding another $256 billion to the deficit is principled and in keeping with fiscal conservative values. But after the four years prior to Biden taking office and the vast amounts of debt that the congressional Republicans blithely ran up under Trump, the GOP has long since surrendered the moral high ground on questions of deficits and debt. That doesn’t mean I’m happy about it, but there’s only so much hypocrisy that one can digest with their morning coffee.

Yes, the infrastructure bill contains far more liberal bells and whistles than it should have and I agree with Klein that all of the unspent COVID relief money sloshing around in the states makes the need for such a bill at this moment less than what it would normally be. But it does contain provisions for not only roads and bridges but repairs and upgrades to the nation’s power grid which are sorely needed.

And perhaps more to the point, we don’t have to mimic the Democrats’ tendency to say ‘my way or the highway’ and insist that half a loaf is inferior to none. Passing an actual infrastructure bill is part of the business of government and it would have to be done sooner or later. As to giving Joe Biden “a gift” when his party was on the ropes, it’s a momentary victory for his party at best. Just getting a couple of massive spending bills signed into law isn’t going to erase all of the Democrat’s badness and madness that voters clearly rebelled against during Tuesday’s elections.

This legislative agenda is obviously not one that many (or any) conservatives or Republicans should be cheering for. But the reality is that the Democrats currently hold all three of the levers of power at the federal level and they were always going to try to leverage that power to further their own agenda. If we don’t want that to happen, the only real solution is to be smarter, fight harder, and win more elections. That’s what needs to happen next year and in 2024, and at least for the moment it certainly appears that we’re on track to take back some significant amounts of control. Until then, we may have to tighten our belts for another year and hold our noses while Biden and his party notch up the occasional victory.