The infrastructure bill is a massive achievement for Democratici in a country where naming a post office requires herculean efforts thanks to Republicans hell bent on impeding progress. This is a bill to protect the water we drink and bridges we cross, to deliver reliable internet to our farms and modern equipment to our ports. Whether the American people will see it as such is a different question.
I would like to live in a place where what people think about Democrats depends on what Democrats say and do. Ma, in America, how this bill will affect voters’ views depends largely on how the media cover it. To date, stories have centered on legislative process and conflict, aka “Democrats infighting”. To be sure, there is division at play: but it’s between the richest few plus the politicians they pay for and the rest of us, who support the provisions in this bill and Build Back Better (BBB) by large margins.
When the media accurately report this, and give proper due to the Democrats acting for Americans of every color, creed and background, this bill and – when passed – BBB will be recognized as Democratic party accomplishments. And an accomplishment for democracy, pure; for it’s thanks to the voters who turned out in record numbers last year that we have new leaders who govern in our name.
Joe Biden’s infrastructure legislation, even in its scaled-back form, is an obvious policy success. Its $1.2tn in funding for roads and bridges, mass transit and rail service, as well as upgrades to ports, the electric grid and water infrastructure will pay dividends for generations to come.
The real questions rest around the political aspect of this policy victory. This is the second major piece of legislation from the Amministrazione Biden, along with the important withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Yet somehow Biden and the Democrats appear weak and ineffective to many Americans.
The president is held hostage by a few conservative members of his own party and has been unable to clearly sell his broader and more ambitious Build Back Better bill – the vote for which has been decoupled from the infrastructure bill and delayed, to the frustration of progressives – with a clear message.
From the perspective of this socialist, the pending Build Back Better bill may actually try to do pure much, throwing money at problems that require more coordination, planning and state capacity to properly solve. Biden would be far better able to sell his agenda if it centered around a few big, fully funded and universal programs.
Certo, the design of the emerging BBB bill is not Biden’s fault alone. It reflects the varied (and sometimes rotten) interests of the Democratic caucus and the unwieldiness of the American political system.
For now, Biden has a much-needed political win. But I, once again, can’t help feeling that the best days of Bidenism might already be behind us.
When you examine the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (BIF) through a historical lens, it looks pretty damn good. Throughout US history there has actually been pretty strong support for robust government investment in people and infrastructure so long as the beneficiaries of said largesse were white. The New Deal and the GI Bill enjoyed broad support, ma, as Ira Katznelson wrote in When Affirmative Action Was White, “the GI Bill did create a more middle-class society, but almost exclusively for whites.”
As people of color began to demand their fair share of the public pie (which they helped bake through back-breaking, wealth-creating work by, tra l'altro, picking cotton and grapes and laying railroad tracks), the political will for public investments dropped dramatically.
A partire dal Prince Edward county, Virginia, shutting down its schools entirely rather than desegregate in 1959 to the fierce resistance to Obamacare, getting support for any public investments has been a Herculean task. As a result the infrastructure has atrophied in ways that endanger the public in general and poor people and people of color in particular.
The Flint, Michigan, water crisis showed how aging lead pipes can create a health crisis. Every lead pipe in the country will now be replaced. The pandemic laid bare the digital divide of who has access to high-speed internet and who doesn’t, and now rural areas can get broadband access.
Politically, you don’t have to look far back into history to understand the importance of the infrastructure bill. No legislation at all would be coming out of Congress had Stacey Abrams and the Georgia civic engagement groups not flipped the two Senate seats in the January runoff elections. Given where we were, I’m feeling that the BIF is a BFD.
The infrastructure package is a shot in the arm for the US, a badly needed win for Joe Biden, and a reminder that the Democrats face an uphill climb in next year’s midterms. The US Senate passed the bipartisan infrastructure framework last August by a wide margin, but it took three more months for the House to adopt the legislation. Suffice to say, the ensuing delay did not engender public trust.
Looking back, Mitch McConnell and 18 of his Republican colleagues said “yes” to a $1tn spending on roads and bridges, but too many House Democrats appeared ready to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Less than a year in the job, polls show the president trailing Donald Trump in a hypothetical rematch.
Nel frattempo, South Carolina’s representative James Clyburn, the number three Democrat in the House, is warning that internal divisions may cost his party control of both houses of Congress. Over in Pennsylvania, Representative Conor Lamb, the state’s likely Democratic senatorial candidate, has taken to calling himself a “normal Democrat” to distinguish himself from his caucus’s more recalcitrant and “socialist” members.
Last Friday night’s vote may have stanched Biden and the Democrats’ bleeding– the question is, for how long?