Publisher’s View: Infrastructure investment should be first bipartisan bridge
By Rob Martinelli
On June 16, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) warned congressional Democrats against backing a compromise infrastructure bill that prioritizes bipartisan deal-making over progressive policy outcomes, urging her party to support a more ambitious proposal.
On June 25, President Joe Biden suggested he wouldn’t sign the bipartisan bill he negotiated earlier in the week with moderate senators – including Delaware’s Chris Coons – unless the (much larger, party-line) reconciliation package landed on his desk simultaneously. A day later, Biden walked back his comments about the two plans being linked and Republicans say things are back on track.
I doubt this is over. This is why Congress rarely gets much done. Negotiations collapse when people entrench in extreme positions and rhetoric takes precedence over governance.
But we have seen bipartisanship on meaningful bills in recent weeks.
The Senate passed the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), formerly known as the Endless Frontier Act, authorizing $110 billion for basic and advanced technology over a five-year period. USICA is aimed at making the United States more competitive with China and passed the Senate in early June by a 68-32 margin.
Infrastructure legislation should be easy to pass. It has been in the past, regardless of which party controlled the White House and Congress. But in the past, lawmakers have kept the definition simple. The original bill widens previous guardrails and then drives through them.
Much of the country’s infrastructure – roads, bridges, public drinking and water systems, dams, airports, mass transit systems, and more – needs major overhaul after years of underfunding. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave it a C- in its 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, a slight increase over the D+ the organization assigned four years ago.
Here’s what ASCE says about Delaware: “Driving on roads in need of repair in Delaware costs each driver $456 per year, and 3.2% of bridges are rated structurally deficient. Drinking water needs in Delaware are an estimated $806 million. Sixty-three dams are considered to be high-hazard potential. The state’s schools have an estimated capital expenditure gap of $102 million. This deteriorating infrastructure impedes Delaware’s ability to compete in an increasingly global marketplace. Success in a 21st century economy requires serious, sustained leadership on infrastructure investment at all levels of government.”
The federal bill needs to focus on fixing our roads, bridges, public drinking and water systems, dams, airports, mass transit systems, and rural broadband. It does not need to include amendments so full of pork that the Republicans won’t vote for it for the same reason they didn’t support the COVID-19 relief bill.
We do need guardrails as we move forward.
I’d like to see a clear focused definition of “infrastructure” and save what doesn’t meet that definition for another day. Let’s keep the focus away from items like climate change and charging stations for electric vehicles and debate those separately.
We should avoid using tax increases to pay for it, particularly given how much we spent earlier this year on non-COVID-related provisions. In particular, we need to hold President Biden to his campaign promise not to increase taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year.
I was optimistic in late May when I read that Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and their Environment and Public Works Committee had crafted a streamlined compromise bill with a price tag that was well below the $2.3 trillion plan originally announced.
I’d like to see Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Delaware’s only representative in the House, clearly state her position on infrastructure legislation, which to the best of my knowledge she has not done in recent months.
This cannot be allowed to be a partisan dogfight. Investing in our roads, rails, bridges, IT infrastructure, and electrical grid is an investment in our nation, our economy, and our families.
Rob Martinelli is the president and CEO of Today Media, the parent company of Delaware Business Times.