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Tom Zirpoli: The politics of infrastructure funding | COMMENTARY

After waiting almost five years for the infamous “Infrastructure Week,” it finally arrived a couple of weeks ago when the House, including 13 Republicans, passed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The vote was 228 to 206 and President Joe Biden signed the bill on Monday.

Six “progressive” Democrats voted against the bill because they will not get everything they want, when they want it, in a second bill focused on child care, education, and other pro-family investments, which may be voted on at a later date.

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I will never understand the strategy of not voting for one good bill that will help Americans because you can’t get two good bills to help Americans. Sounds foolish to me and this approach has turned off a lot of Americans, including Democrats. Then again, while Democrats are debating the best approach to expand child care and early childhood education for our nation’s children and their families, Republicans are waging war with Sesame Street for showing Big Bird getting a vaccination.

The bill had already been approved in the Senate with a bipartisan 69 to 30 vote that included the support of 19 Republican senators. Infrastructure bills are usually bipartisan because most members of Congress have infrastructure issues in their states and districts that need funding.

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The bill spreads spending over eight years and includes money for roads and bridges, our nation’s electrical grid, railroads, broadband, water infrastructure, public transportation, and ports. These are necessary investments for our nation. This year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a grade of “C-.”

During the previous administration’s four years in office, there were repeated announcements of a coming “infrastructure week” or an infrastructure bill that never came. As stated by Hugo Lowell, writing for The Guardian, “Regardless of the politics, the passage of a $1.2T bipartisan infrastructure bill is a towering legislative achievement for Biden — and one that Trump never came close to matching.”

The former president is upset that President Biden managed to get an infrastructure bill through Congress within his first 10 months in office while he could not do the same over four years. Trump is especially angry at the 19 Republican senators and the 13 Republican House members who supported the bill. How dare they vote for a bill that provides roads and bridges for their home districts? More important, how dare they vote for a bill proposed by President Biden, even if it helps the nation, too?

Trump was not the only person upset. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia called the Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill “traitor Republicans.” Other Republicans stated that supporters of the infrastructure bill should be removed from their congressional committees, which is interesting because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also supported the bill. Others are referring to the bill as “socialism” even though most of our nation’s highway and interstate system is already paid for and maintained with funds from the federal government. Are these Republicans suggesting that the federal government stop funding roads, bridges, tunnels, and ports in their home states and districts? I’d like to see a vote on that.

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At least one member of Congress, Republican Fred Upton of Michigan, received several threats to his life and the lives of his family members for supporting the bill. “This madness has to stop,” said Upton. Unfortunately, there are few Republicans in Congress willing to condemn, never mind stop, the madness.

The passage of the infrastructure bill came on the same day President Biden celebrated data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that reported 531,000 new jobs for October and an additional 235,000 more jobs to be added to the previous August and September numbers. And the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6 percent.

These numbers add to an already strong first year for Biden with 5.6 million new jobs. As stated by historian Heather Cox Richardson, “Biden added more jobs in the first 9 months of his presidency than the last three Republican administrations, covering 16 years, combined.” That’s pretty amazing. Oh, and the stock market, a common Republican metric on the economy, continues to break records.

While wages are also up significantly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that the consumer price index had risen 6.2 percent for the year, the largest increase since 1990. Gallup found in a recent poll that most Americans think that this is a great time to find a good job and secure good wages. However, most Americans are also seeing these price increases when they get gas or purchase groceries. This is a significant challenge for the Biden administration. Infrastructure spending may be great, but it takes months or years for these investments to impact the daily lives of ordinary Americans. Meanwhile, inflated prices are hitting them hard on a daily basis.

Tom Zirpoli is the program director for the human services management graduate program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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