Infrastructure Vote? Oh No, That’s Their Bill

Photo credit Verizon

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has long been a consensus that America needs to pay more attention to its infrastructure. Last week, the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and sent it to the President for his signature. Of the total amount, $550 billion was new money; the remainder was funding normally allocated each year for highways and other infrastructure projects.

The bill had passed the Senate earlier in the year on a bipartisan vote, 69-30. Even Mitch McConnell voted for it. However, in the House, only 13 Republicans voted for the bill. The rest of the House Republicans were angry over the support given the bill by some of their fellow Republicans. Probably the most galling aspect was that the 13 Republican votes were needed to pass the bill after six far-left Democrats, who refuse to, and do not understand the need for, compromise, voted against the legislation.

Why did most House Republicans oppose an issue that has traditionally been a bipartisan one? A few said they opposed it on its merits, sort of. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida declared it was a “socialism bill.” Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia referred to as “Joe Biden’s Communist takeover of America.” On the face of it, this argument is absurd. The federal government has been involved in financing public works projects since the U.S. Supreme Court Gibbons v. Ogden decision in 1824. Beginning around that time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began major projects to improve river access. Proceeding through history, Theodore Roosevelt (a Republican) used taxpayer money to build the Panama Canal. One of the major achievements of the Eisenhower administration (another Republican) was the establishment of the Interstate Highway System. In 2016, one of Donald Trump’s major campaign promises was $1 trillion for infrastructure, but he was not able to follow through on it. (Even his infamous wall could be considered infrastructure.)  The Wall Street Journal recently ran an opinion piece by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), entitled, “We Must Pass the Infrastructure Bill.” The Journal and Sen. Cassidy would probably be surprised to hear that they were advocating socialist and Communist policies.

The Republicans plainly opposed the bill because it was a Democratic one. The leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, who, as recently as 2020, doubled down on his earlier call for a $1 trillion infrastructure package, expressed his anger and frustration that Republicans were giving Democrats “a big and beautiful win on Infrastructure.”  “That 13 House Republicans provided the votes needed to pass this is absurd,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) said. “Vote for this infrastructure bill and I will primary the hell out of you,” Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) threatened his colleagues. The National Review summarized its view simply as, “Disgraceful Republicans Rescue Biden’s Flailing Agenda.”

All four of Virginia’s Republican Representatives opposed the bill. Rep. Rob Wittman has been the only one, to date, to issue a formal press release explaining his opposition. The core of his argument is:

“I support investing in our infrastructure. But I will not support a package that fails to responsibly invest taxpayer dollars in genuine infrastructure projects.

Of the $550 billion in new spending, only $110 billion, or 17.6%, goes to roads, bridges, and major projects generally considered to be traditional infrastructure. Much of the remaining $1 trillion are Green New Deal provisions. As such, it is hardly fair or accurate to call this an infrastructure package. Virginia’s First District, home to one of the worst traffic hotspots in the nation, deserves better.”

Rep. Ben Cline, who represents the Sixth District that covers the area west of the Blue Ridge and north of Roanoke, was quoted by a TV station as referring to “neglected traditional infracture.” He also complained that “just $110 billion is allocated for roads and bridges, less than 15% of the legislation’s total funding.” (Coincidentally, or not, Trump has made the same complaint that only “11 percent” goes to “real infrastructure.” The percentage keeps going down with each speaker.)

In that same TV news report, Rep. Bob Good of the Fifth District was quoted as asserting that “this phony infrastructure bill will do little more than pump billions of dollars into liberal social programs.”

The most charitable thing than can be said about Good’s statement is that he must have been confused about which infrastructure bill he had just voted on.  As for Wittman’s and Cline’s comments about only 15% to 17% going to “real infrastructure,” they are being disingenuous, to say the least. According to reporting in the Wall Street Journal, the following projects will be funded out of the $550 billion in new money:

  • Roads, bridges, and major projects — $110 billion
  • Updating and expansion of nation’s power grid — $73 billion
  • Rail maintenance and upgrades (mostly Amtrak) — $66 billion
  • Broadband — $65 billion
  • Clean driniking water project — $55 billion
  • Ports and airports — $42 billion
  • Public transit — $39 billion

That is a total of $450 billion, or 82% of the new money, that will be going for “hard” infrastructure. Indeed, infrastructure may have once been thought of as consisting of roads and bridges, but that was 40 to 50 years ago. The country has changed.

Rounding out the package was $76 billion for environmental projects:

  • Bolstering infrastructure against climate change and cyberattacks — $50 billion
  • Miscellaneous projects focusing on economic and environmental justice — $21 billion
  • Charging stations for electric vehicles – -$7.5 billion
  • Zero or low emission buses — $7.5 billion

The last item was $11 billion for highway safety projects.

I have no doubt that, when a rural jurisdiction in one of the Republican members’ districts gets a grant for broadband installation, the Congressman will issue a press release with great fanfare extolling the benefits that the federal money will provide and will show up at any groundbreaking ceremony. I hope the media and his constituents have the presence of mind to ask him why he voted against the bill.