November 23, 2021

Thanks to President Biden, infrastructure is bipartisan again — it needs to stay that way

Just before midnight on Nov. 5, 13 House Republicans along with 215 House Democrats voted to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This bill, which has now been signed into law, provides $550 billion in new funding to rebuild our deteriorated and failing critical infrastructure.

Instead of being praised as bipartisan deal makers doing what’s best for their constituents and the nation, these 13 Republicans are being threatened with expulsion from the Republican Party. Former President Trump called them “a disgrace” and they have reportedly received death threats.

It didn’t used to be this way! 

For decades after the initial adoption of Eisenhower’s “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways” infrastructure was a bipartisan concern. My first term in Congress 34 years ago, all the House Democrats and 102 Republicans voted to override President Reagan’s veto of a five-year surface transportation bill.

I didn’t cast that vote to hurt President Reagan politically—I did it because it was in the best interest of my constituents who I came to Congress to solve problems for.

In 2009, a president of my own party, Barack Obama, was pushing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which favored tax cuts over investment in infrastructure to meet the challenges we faced—I voted against it.

Needless to say, I didn’t cast that vote for political reasons either—but based on my own judgment about the needs of our nation. Until recently in American politics, that was the standard for making transportation and infrastructure policy. After all, a deficient bridge isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem—it’s an American one. 

Addressing our infrastructure on a bipartisan basis was a norm that continued throughout most of my time in Congress, half of which I’ve spent in the minority.

Back in 1997, Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.), then-Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, partnered with committee Republicans and Democrats to redirect gas tax revenue from deficit reduction to the highway trust fund—and he defied the then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to do so.

In 2005, under the leadership of then-Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), Congress once again worked in a bipartisan manner to pass the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU. This bill passed the House 417-9, and the Senate 89-11 and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. No one got everything they wanted, but both sides came together to provide needed funding and certainty for the American people and for our economy.

That’s why it was no surprise to me to see Young (now the most senior member of the House) defy his party leadership and vote with twelve other levelheaded Republicans to support the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Republicans in the House seem content watching bridges fail, water mains explode, sewers back up, transit and rail systems break down and ports in need of federal investment get so congested that it snarls our economy and drives up the cost of consumer goods, just for the sake of not giving President Biden a political win.

By voting against this long overdue investment and partnership by the federal government in critical infrastructure, Republicans are ignoring the needs and will of the American people.

Former President Trump himself supported transformative investments in America’s infrastructure suggesting we provide as much as $2 trillion for infrastructure at a White House meeting I attended. In fact, he held seven “Infrastructure Weeks” that provided zero results. It was only after President Biden succeeded where President Trump failed that has led to his opposition to investment in infrastructure. So much for the “Art of the Deal.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act isn’t perfect, but I supported it because it was the best we could get through the Senate, and it’s in the best interest of our country.

I had my own bill, the INVEST in America Act to both transform and reimagine our transportation infrastructure. It went through regular order and was the product of bipartisan meetings with over 70 stakeholder groups, more than 20 committee hearings, and incorporated over 300 amendments. And, when it came to the House floor—twice in two years—it passed with bipartisan support each time. The House’s work on the INVEST in America Act set a high bar and helped push the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to be as forward-looking and robust as possible while still getting approval in a closely divided Senate. 

That’s what legislating is supposed to look like: you study the problem, put forth solutions you believe in, fight for your values in tough negotiations, but ultimately come to a compromise that might not have everything you wanted but will ultimately make Americans’ lives better.

If compromise becomes akin to betrayal, dysfunction and gridlock will continue to plague our politics and prevent leaders in Washington from solving problems for the people they are supposed to represent. Instead of focusing on what divides us, we must instead focus on what unites us. 

We can only hope that President Biden’s success in passing this bipartisan package marks a turning point to putting national interest ahead of partisan political interest.

Peter DeFazio represents Oregon’s 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives and serves as Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Source: The Hill