When President Biden announced on the White House grounds that there was a long-awaited bipartisan “deal” on an infrastructure bill – the greatest investment since the formation of the interstate highway system – he apparently forgot to mention the fine print that was part of the bargain.
Perhaps he forgot, or maybe he didn’t want to disrupt the joyous occasion. It’s not often that you see Republicans and Democrats slapping backs and shaking hands on anything, especially on things with partisan implications. Indeed, getting both sides to come to an agreement on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan was no small task and Biden helped make it happen.
Notably absent from that White House photo-op were Democratic progressives, which probably was a sign that something wasn’t quite right. The grand deal that Biden hammered out with Republicans quickly turned to “no deal” once Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi entered the fray.
They want the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill all right, but only if Congress approves spending an additional $6.2 trillion package for what could be named the “Socialists Dream Bill.” See Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for details. The issue will be front and center when the Senate returns from recess, and subject to any number of twists and turns.
“It’s a moving target,” says Idaho Sen. Jim Risch. “The path forward is still uncertain as members of Congress must review what’s in it and how much it’s going to cost. In order for me to support it, it’s going to be the right bill for Idaho. Any major infrastructure bill must prioritize the construction and revitalization of hard infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, and exercise budgetary restraint to ensure taxpayer dollars are well spent.”
He also favors as part of the package a strong investment in broadband, which is essential in rural communities in Idaho and throughout the nation.
Risch, as with fellow Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, does not dispute the need for infrastructure improvements.
“The U.S. needs a reliable national transportation network we can count on well into the future,” Risch says.
Crapo, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, says he is willing to work on proposals to solve the long-term solvency of transportation funding and broadband development. “We have an opportunity to create American jobs and return our economy to the strength and broad-based growth enjoyed prior to the pandemic. But to do this, we must focus on ideas that can garner true bipartisan support and remove partisan wish-list items.”
So, the position of Idaho’s senators is clear. They would be friendly toward a comprehensive infrastructure bill, assuming that Idaho would benefit and the funding mechanism was in order (no tax increases). But they want nothing to do with a $6.2 trillion plan put together by Bernie Sanders and “progressive” Democrats.
“Throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at pet projects unrelated to infrastructure and seeing what sticks won’t work,” Risch says. “And certainly, any attempt to tie an infrastructure bill to trillions of additional taxpayer dollars on liberal social priorities is a fatal flaw.”
It would be so easy for Republicans and Democrats to come to a “yes” on an infrastructure plan. But as we all know, nothing is easy in Washington.
Democrats could pass the whole ball of wax – the infrastructure bill and Sander’s dream bill – through reconciliation, which would require only simple majorities in the House and Senate. Republicans won’t like it, but not much they can do aside from complaining.
Biden would prefer bipartisan support over reconciliation, but Schumer and Pelosi may have other thoughts. Never underestimate the ability of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org