When zero hour arrived in Washington, D.C. for the infrastructure and social spending packages that were once firmly tied together and now are only sort of tied together, and it was decided to hold a vote at almost midnight on Nov. 5 just on the infrastructure measure, 13 Republicans supported it.
They now deserve their own support against blistering criticism from within the GOP and from the Murdoch media empire’s Wall Street Journal and Fox News.
We can discount comments from Marjorie Taylor Greene, who along with a few others decried the Republican infrastructure supporters for voting for what she termed the Biden administration's “Communist takeover of America via so-called infrastructure.” That kind of demagogy is meant to intimidate dissenters and whip up threats. And it's working, with numerous death threats.
The real problem comes from the slightly more reasoned arguments advanced by Fox commentators and Wall Street Journal editorial writers. They withheld support for the infrastructure measure partly because the Democrats, to gain support for it from the party progressive wing who want the social welfare and climate-related bill known as Build Back Better, had tied support for the two together.
The Murdoch media believes most government is bad government. A Nov. 2 Journal editorial recommends that because of the waste and folly it sees in the Senate-approved legislation—that government officials, for example, will have huge power and funding to rearrange the energy industry to combat climate change—House Republicans “ought to make Democrats pass the infrastructure bill with their own votes.”
For a while it seemed like you could no more separate the human from social infrastructure bills than you could pry the frown from Mitch McConnell's face.
Earlier in the year, the editors wrote, “The test of any dollar taxed and spent by government should be whether its benefit will exceed its return if left in the private economy.” That’s a nice idea for an economic philosophy class, but since how the return is measured makes all the difference, it doesn’t work that way in the real world.
In listing the names of the 13 Republican House members who voted for the infrastructure bill, the Murdoch media invites GOP Trump loyalists to attack them. Many of those representatives, of course, were making strategic decisions based on projects in their districts and concern about swing voters.
Although 19 GOP senators also had voted for infrastructure, the House members, who joined their Senate peers in not falling in line with the party-above-country approach, deserve more credit. They face elections every two years.
I was exasperated with the Biden team’s designation of social programs as “human infrastructure.” But the word infrastructure has always been a flexible term of convenience, starting with the “internal improvements” in post-colonial America. Now, as a Bloomberg headline recently put it, the question isn’t whether the road builders in Congress will break their “Highway Habit,” their tendency to expand the national highway system. They already reformed, as federal support for roads and bridges as a percent of GDP has tailed off. The new bill has components devoted to clean energy, grid upgrades, commuter transit, rail, ports and harbors, drinking water and internet access.
Some in the industry wished, as I did, that the Democrats would drop the intra-party linkage pact.
For a while it seemed you could no more separate the physical from the human or social infrastructure than you could pry the frown from Mitch McConnell’s face. And then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did unlink them, sort of. Her urgency no doubt was fueled by the disappointing results of the recent state elections.
There is a genuine, unaddressed longing in the U.S. for better roads and bridges and public transit and an upgraded power grid.
I believe the funding discussed for improvements in physical infrastructure is too small, at $550 billion (depending on how you count). There is a genuine, unaddressed longing in the U.S. for better roads and bridges, public transit and an upgraded power grid. Americans realize infrastructure needs a lot of work.
As the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations pointed out in a 2018 report, U.S. infrastructure is both “dangerously overstretched” and lagging behind economic competitors, particularly China.
To be for the infrastructure package—in this administration, in this year, in this world—you have to be for all the entanglements the Biden program needs to pass it. That applies to Republicans who have doubts about the size of the proposed social welfare program and anyone who dislikes higher taxes or worries about inflation. That’s the political reality.
Deputy Editor Richard Korman edits the opinion section of ENR.