With House Republicans busy purging people and fighting the Jan. 6 truth commission, it’s up to Senate Republicans to try to demonstrate there’s some rationale for their GOP colleagues to be participating in this thing called government. It’s been ages since they’ve been called upon to proactively contribute to a policy-making process, in this case infrastructure, and thus far they’re not making much headway.
They’re “getting there,” says Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, of the process they’ve been working at for nearly a month. Back in mid-April they revealed just how incompetent they’ve become at governing, offering up a $568 billion counter to President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion proposal. It was a back-of-the-napkin scribble that offered a vague funding mechanism of taxes on electric car drivers and taking COVID-19 relief money away from states. It’s a reflection of just how inadequate that proposal was that senior Republicans are now inching up their spending limit. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went up to $800 billion just last week, and on Monday Sen. Lindsey Graham offered $900 billion, but they’re still fighting the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to fund it.
It’s a reflection on just how out of touch Republicans are with what is actually happening on the ground that they think that this whole thing is about taxes. This is happening even while much of the eastern seaboard is still dealing with a gas shortage because of a cybersecurity threat, when a major artery between Tennessee and Arkansas has been shut down for the foreseeable future because of an inch-wide split in a steel box beam holding a bridge together, and when a train carrying fertilizer and ammonium (you know, the homemade bomb ingredients) derailed and caught fire in Iowa.
In the meantime, companies in rural America are desperate for their areas to join the 21st century and let them flourish. Patrick Weiler, who manufactures asphalt paving equipment in Marion County, Iowa, tells The New York Times he can’t find qualified local workers because everyone is leaving because they can’t even get on the internet. “How do you get young people to want to move back into these rural areas when they feel like they’re moving back into a time frame of 20 years ago?” Weiler asked. He’s excited at the prospect of the Biden American Jobs Act—not for the paving business it can bring him, but for the possibility that his corner of Iowa will finally get broadband.
Weiler’s daughter, Megan Green, moved back to Iowa to join the family business after college, and bemoans the obsolete technology she’s stuck with. “Our cellular service is more spotty, our wireless is more temperamental, and we definitely only have one choice” for internet access, she said. “We rely on internet access” at the business, which has a high-speed fiber optic connection they paid for, run from a nearby highway. But the pandemic posed a serious problem for the company. “I was shocked to know how many of our employees could not work from home because they did not have reliable internet access,” Green said. “We’re talking ‘seven minutes to download an email’ type internet access.” Imagine what it was like for their kids trying to attend online school.
This is what much of red America is dealing with, not that their Republican leadership sees it as a problem. Not compared to the problem of raising taxes on the super-rich. They’re still stuck on gas taxes and user fees to fund the expansion of broadband and the repair of roads and bridges, the only concessions they’re making on what should be considered infrastructure. They’re intent on helping the fossil fuel industry by keeping its taxes low and making sure the nation’s infrastructure continues to depend on it. Never mind that that policy hurts the people they represent.
Raising the gas tax “means my low-income, blue-collar families back in Wisconsin pay through the nose,” Rep. Ron Kind, a senior Democratic member of the House Ways and Means Committee, told Roll Call. “That ain’t going to happen here.” Meaning in the Ways and Means Committee, which has to approve any new taxes. Kind is one moderate Democrat who has no problem at all raising taxes on the rich, which he says is an easier sell to constituents than a gas tax or user fee. “If the feedback back home is any indication, it sure is,” he said.
He’s right, of course. Polling has shown it over and over—people are absolutely fine with taxing the rich. They’re enthusiastic about it. They’d be thrilled to know that they have high-speed internet, new water pipes, and maybe even better access to public transportation because rich corporations finally had to pay their taxes.
But Republicans aren’t likely to budge. They’ll meet again Tuesday, not with Biden but with administration officials including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, to show the work they’ve done so far.
Biden says he wants the bipartisan path forward to be clear by Memorial Day. Whether this gets the legislation any closer to passing with Republican support isn’t apparent yet, but it’s still an outside bet. It’s looking more and more like Biden’s efforts to get Republicans on board with a plan is geared toward demonstrating to Democrats who insist on doing this in a bipartisan way—that would be Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, among others—that it’s a fool’s game.