It’s time to stop whining about the complete absence of bipartisanship in Washington. Soon the Senate will pass a trillion dollar infrastructure bill that 17 Republicans support. If eventually enacted into law, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be the “most significant investment in our infrastructure since the construction of the interstate highway system,” according to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). And, thanks to the Republicans involved in negotiating the bill, there are no new taxes.
What’s not to like?
A lot, but the bill still should be passed. The bill includes $110 billion for bridges and roads, $66 billion for trains, $39 billion for public transportation, and $25 billion for airports and aviation. It also would extend broadband to rural areas and provide $55 billion to improve water quality.
Of special interest to the Eastern Shore is roughly $12 billion for flood mitigation, $238 million for the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, and even $1.25 billion to support ferries. (It may be a stretch to hope that the federal government would provide Oxford with a new electric-powered ferry to replace Talbot, but stranger things have happened in massive pieces of legislation.)
A summary of the major provisions may be found here.
Much of the spending in the bill is urgently needed. It will help keep America competitive and improve life for all of us. The rest of the bill cannot be described as “urgently needed.” That is no surprise. Lobbyists from a myriad of interests have been busy for months proposing amendments. Dozens of them made it into the bill.
Anyone who has worked on Capitol Hill, regardless of party, will tell you that the making of legislation, like sausage, isn’t pretty. Large bills become magnets for hundreds of amendments, some improving bills and others simply authorizing yet more spending, sometimes for dubious or questionable purposes.
The infrastructure bill is no exception. It did not grow to 2,702 pages without including amendments like Senator Klobuchar’s proposal for a “Senior Corps Distance Volunteering Act” authorizing $5 million in spending. What is “distance volunteering?” Read the bill to find out. In fairness to Senator Klobuchar (D-MN), her amendment may create a great program. I just don’t know what it is and question what it is doing in an infrastructure bill.
The bill also includes section 23015, entitled “Limousine Research.” I enjoy riding in limos but question the urgency of this research. Section 23015 calls for research on how to make limousines safer and authorizes the government to issue new regulations based on the findings.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the bill is the absence of new taxes. That sounds great, but where will the trillion dollars to pay for the new spending come from? The answer is found in the nuances of Congressional budget accounting, described by some as “smoke and mirrors.”
The details are discouraging. The bill “repurposes” $205 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief funds. Wait—aren’t infections and deaths again on the rise due to the delta variant and the stubborn refusal of too many to get vaccinated or adopt safe practices? It is easy to imagine a new COVID-19 relief bill, most likely including far more than $205 billion in new spending, being enacted later this year.
Other funding for the new spending comes from unspent unemployment benefits, extending various fees, selling oil out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and more. The Wall Street Journal describes the bill as “relying on savings and revenues already baked into the fisc or that are unlikely to happen.”
Interested in more detail? The full bill can be found here.
If the Senate passes the bill, its enactment into law is far from guaranteed. House progressives have tied action on it to a proposed $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill that Republicans universally oppose. House Speaker Pelosi has indicated the House won’t pass the $1 trillion infrastructure bill unless the $3.5 trillion bill is passed.
That’s how Washington works. That’s why the entire kabuki dance taking place this week may result in nothing happening. That’s why any conclusion that the partisan impasse in Washington has been broken is premature.
I don’t plan to read the whole Senate bipartisan bill. Anyone want to speculate on how many Senators will read it before voting on it?
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and occasionally goldendoodles.