Will bipartisanship survive?

Just over a week ago President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package. A result of the across-the-aisle negotiations that Joe Biden promised during his campaign, the bill was hashed, rehashed, and rewritten. It passed the Senate 69-30 with 19 Republican votes (including both Idaho senators) and the House, 228-206 with 13 Republican votes.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell described the bill as a “godsend” for Kentucky.  “We have a lot of infrastructure needs, both in rural areas and with big bridges.”  

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo said, “The bipartisan legislation we passed today makes investments in traditional, hard infrastructure projects to help keep pace with Idaho’s rapid growth.”  

Even Georgia Sen. Gary Palmer, who voted against the bill, praised it. “Completion of Brimingham’s Northern Beltline has been a priority of mine…and new funding for the project has now passed.”

It’s pitiful that a major program with bipartisan support has become so noteworthy in American politics. In 1956 the Republicans provided 48% of the votes for Eisenhower’s federal highway bill. In 1965 they provided 46% of the votes for the Civil Rights Act and 22% for Medicare.

The bipartisan proposal is the first of two infrastructure bills. It allots a set amount to programs in each state and then offers additional grants that states may compete for. Idaho’s allotted share is $3 billion over five years.  (Idaho’s state budget is about $9 billion a year.) 

Two billion of Idaho’s share is for updating Federal highways. The third billion (in order of amount) is designated for clean drinking water, bridges, public transit, broadband coverage, airports, electric vehicle recharging stations, wildfire control, and prevention of cyber attacks.

A second infrastructure bill, called Build Back Better, passed the House last week and is going to the Senate. It deals more with global warming and workforce resources like worker training and child care.  

Some observations.

The media focused too much attention on opposition from House members who insisted that the Build Back Better Bill pass the Senate before they’d vote on the bipartisan bill. Six liberal Democrats voted against the bill. Six. Most Democrats are willing to accept any movement for the public good; the liberal-centrist split within the party isn’t crucial.   

Spending on infrastructure has public support.  In a poll released in September  nearly 60% of voters said that current infrastructure presents safety or health risks. A poll last year showed that 80% of Americans want more investment in water infrastructure. Yet, support of the bill is lower among Republicans than support for its individual segments. It’s like voters’ supporting the Affordable Care Act while vehemently opposing Obamacare, which was merely another name. 

Former President Trump had proposed an infrastructure bill in exchange for Democrats stopping investigations of him. He then blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure.  Yet he denounced the current bipartisan bill as a “terrible Democrat socialist infrastructure plan.” Others have followed suit.   

The kickback from the rank-and-file to 19 Senate Republicans voting for the bill in August was muted compared to the reaction to the November vote by 13 House Republicans. The office of Rep. Fred Upton (Michigan) reported he’d received more than “a thousand angry and threatening calls, including multiple death threats.”  Other representatives were tagged as “traitors” who should slit their wrists or fall down a staircase or rot in hell.  

Not surprisingly, most callers were not from the representatives’ home districts and many referred to provisions in the Build Back Better bill rather than the bipartisan one. 

We’ve seen a flash of bipartisanship, but its future is in danger.

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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