A Few Notes About Passage of the Infrastructure Bill
A Long Night – Following Long Months
The title for this posting is a bit of a chuckle that will ring a bell to readers of a certain age. Years ago, that line was often played on TV as a public service message, asking parents if they knew where their children were at that moment. Since sometimes it feels as though our congressional representatives are childlike, the phrase came to mind.
But last week, they finally did a good thing and pulled off what sometimes felt like an impossible task. Let’s look at some interesting factors in the passage of this legislation. There are some important, and sometimes subtle points, that should not escape our notice.
It Got Done
Finally. It did seem to take forever, but it was done. Biden had a great bit of humor in his announcement the morning after. He said, “Finally, Infrastructure Week.” It was a good poke at the memory of Trump declaring “Infrastructure Week” repeatedly and never getting anything done. As we talked about earlier, Trump’s administration likely failed to ever get something like this done because almost none of them had a clue as to how government worked. They lacked the skill set to get it done.
Let us not lose sight of just how big a deal this thing is. It is historic legislation. Much of this has been on the national wish list for 40 years or more – some of it was on a scale not seen for 70 years. America’s experts (engineers and others) have been giving us a failing grade for infrastructure development and maintenance for decades.
Much of America looks like a third world country. This legislation starts making a real dent. It will change lives, improve our country, and boost the economy in major ways.
Process is Not a Pretty Thing
The old analogy of making sausage surely applied to this one.
People were put off by all the delays, posturing, and horse trading. Welcome to legislation. This is pretty much how it always happens – it just is not always so public. And in fact, this is not all a bad thing. All of this amounts to a form of compromise, of give and take. Without such process, nothing would get done.
Of course, this feels better when all the bickering is between parties rather than just inside the Democratic party. But again, welcome to reality. It is almost always this way. I just finished reading the part of Obama’s book about the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Exactly the same process, same irritations. It was probably thus in the Senate of the Roman Empire. Not much is new under the sun.
Timing is Everything
It seems the beatings Democrats took in the elections the Tuesday prior finally pushed people to get this done. It may not have made the difference, as many factors were at play, but one has to wonder. If this bill had been passed a month ago, might Terry McAuliffe be the incoming governor of Virginia?
The party in power usually takes a beating coming into midterms, but the Biden administration seems to be caring a special burden. The fight over this legislation left the impression that the Democrats could not get anything done. In actuality, an amazing number of things have been accomplished, but the lingering pandemic and uneven economic effects has left us with a discouraged and disgruntled electorate. More on this later.
The Separation from the Build Back Better Legislation
This was a surprise to me. These two bills were joined at the hip for many good reasons, each holding the other hostage. I did not see them being separated. In the end, they were because the votes were not there to pass them together. Pelosi developed a brilliant plan to delink but not really separate them. Pending completed cost and revenue estimates, moderates have pledged in writing to support the Build Back Better legislations.
Most liberals took the bet that their colleagues will honor their word. The leader of the progressives in Congress was right and gracious in saying the course taken was the only way forward at this point, and that what has already passed is historic and deserves celebration. We shall see if the deal holds in the House. It likely will hold, at which time the drama moves to the Senate; dramatic it will certainly be.
Who Has the Most Pressure on Them Now?
Not members of Congress or the President, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). This is not new to them, but this is a tough one. They are being asked to cost out an almost two trillion-dollar bill, costing out many things with no existing cost modelling, and to get it done before Thanksgiving.
I expect they will get it done to a good standard and about on time. It is an impressive organization, staffed with serious people not impressed with partisan pressures.
Who Voted Against Their Party on This Bill and Why They Did So
This is the most interesting part of all this.
First the Republicans. Not surprising, but disappointing that their “leadership” and most members voted against this bill, simply because the Democrats proposed it. But an impressive 13 Republican members voted for it, for two reasons.
One, the country desperately needed this to be done, and had needed it for far too long. Others looked at how much money would go into their districts, and they would not let that opportunity pass unsecured. Both reasons seem perfectly valid to me. These 13 voted for this for the right reasons
Six Democrats voted against the bill. Half of them are part of the Posse, their most well-known member AOC of New York. It seems to me they fell into two groups, maybe with overlaps. One group was genuinely angry about the two bills being separated for voting. They felt betrayed and so voted to deny the other bill.
The other group (the larger group, I expect) wanted to let their supporters know they too were unhappy about the legislation division and to send a message to their colleagues that they expect them to honor the new plan going forward. But they voted against the infrastructure bill only once they were confident it had enough votes to pass without their votes. They wanted to make a point, but not burn down the house.
Two things need to happen. The Build Back Better legislation needs to pass both houses and become law. It would be a terrible thing to fall short down. To get this done would seal the history of the Biden administration as historically exceptional. Passing these two bills puts the level of accomplishment at the FDR level. Pretty impressive.
The other thing that must happen is that the Democrats must do a much, much better job of telling their story and ensuring people across the nation know clearly how these bills change the nation and improve the lives of millions- all without almost no Republican support. They need their allies in state and local government, unions, and businesses to help tell that story convincingly. Otherwise, the midterms will put an end to any further progress on anything.
In the words of that great American philosopher, Cable Guy, Get ‘er Done!
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