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  • Sarah Chamberlain

Chamberlain: Democrats must reach across aisle during infrastructure debate

Credit-card use grew over the years because people embraced the idea of buying something today and paying for it out of future income. Democrats still embrace that philosophy; Republicans don’t.

Democrats have tried to position Republicans as being anti-Main Street because we voted against the $1.3 trillion COVID relief bill when in fact our real issue was that more than 90% of the bill’s price tag had so little to do with pandemic relief that we couldn’t support it in its entirety. They rammed it through without any interest in bipartisanship merely because “they could.”

Now, as we await the outcome of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, we anticipate a similar strategy, one that ends with the Democrats funneling non-infrastructure-related pork into their districts using the reconciliation process.

Much of the country’s infrastructure — roads, bridges, public drinking and water systems, dams, airports, mass transit systems, and more – need major overhaul after years of underfunding. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a C- in its 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, a slight increase over the D+ the organization assigned four years ago in its last report card.

We will continue to support rural broadband as part of a comprehensive bill. We hope to see a funding request for an overhaul of the nation’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, a bipartisan provision that has been negotiated in discussions between RMSP Member Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware and their Environment and Public Works Committee members.

We can also see an infrastructure bill that includes bipartisan provisions for research and development credits for small businesses; carbon-capture technology; IT technology; and initiatives that would improve racial equity in transportation.

Road- and bridge-building legislation has a long history of support from both parties. It’s good on a macro level, and it is a great way for legislators to deliver critical project funding to their districts. We are pleased that RMSP House members Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and John Katko of New York were invited to the White House to discuss our priorities with the President, Vice President, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Our problem is whether we should use tax increases to pay for it, particularly given how much we just spent on non-COVID-related provisions. Like the COVID relief bill, we want to draw some lines as to how the Democrats define “infrastructure” and what gets inserted into that bill that doesn’t directly address our critical needs in that area. And we also are concerned that – like the COVID relief bill – the Democrats will use the reconciliation process to exclude Republicans from the process.

We anticipate that the word “sweeping” will be used by the media to describe the bill. If the President follows the shopping list he shared during the campaign, the bill will include at least $2 trillion in “accelerated” investments to shift to cleaner energy; build 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles, support public transit; repair roads and bridges; create unionized jobs; address climate change; implement policy changes on green energy and immigration; and even make child tax credits passed during the COVID-assistance process permanent.

We are cautiously optimistic that the railroading of subsidies for Democratic districts as part of COVID relief will not work for this bill. Some moderate Democrats have raised concerns about blocking infrastructure legislation if Republicans aren’t included. But we’ve seen examples in the past of House Democrats adding provisions at the 11th hour that Senate Republicans just couldn’t support.

We will hold Speaker Nancy Pelosi to her description of what the bill should include – broadband, water systems, mass transit, good paying jobs across the country, schools, and housing. The devil, however, is in the details, and after listing those items, she added “and the rest” and that ambiguity is where we’re concerned.

At the same time, we will also do our best to hold Biden to his promise not to increase taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year.

One of our top priorities this Congress is to work with the Biden administration on an ambitious, bipartisan infrastructure package that maintains, repairs, and invests in America. The time is now for Congress and the Administration to reach across the aisle, unite, and boost investments in our surface transportation network that will move our transportation systems into the 21st century.

Investing in our roads, rails, bridges, IT infrastructure, and electrical grid is an investment in our nation, our economy, and our families. Democrats need to avoid once again making this a partisan issue.

Sarah Chamberlain is president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports a broad alliance of moderate Republicans committed to enacting common-sense, bipartisan legislation on kitchen-table issues. This column first ran on the USA Today Network's Atlantic Region.


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