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Bipartisanship on infrastructure has to be truly bipartisan

| Tuesday, April 20, 2021

After the passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, the Biden administration is looking for its second major victory on infrastructure. The American Jobs Plan is a $2 trillion investment in America’s infrastructure to “reimagine and rebuild a new economy” for the 21st century. The plan envisions modernizing 20,000 miles of highways and roads, repairing 10,000 bridges, increasing access to high-speed broadband networks, expanding the nation’s electrical grid, improving water quality and undertaking other projects. Among the plan’s impacts are to combat climate change and assist historically disadvantaged communities, particularly in promoting racial equity.

Republicans have voiced fierce opposition to the plan on two prongs. First, they have criticized Biden’s intent to raise corporate taxes as a means to pay for the plan. The Biden administration wants to increase the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, undoing the tax cuts Republicans lauded under the Trump administration. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said this is unpopular among Republicans, making it a nonstarter for bipartisan negotiations. Second, Republicans argue the plan goes beyond traditional infrastructure projects, such as expanding childcare and assisting care workers of elderly and disabled Americans. In response to Biden’s plan, some Republicans have proposed a $600-$800 billion infrastructure plan that invests in roads, bridges and broadband.

Biden has called for bipartisan support on the proposal, similar to the platform of unity and reaching across the aisle his campaign asserted in the 2020 election. His many meetings with officials from both parties to work out disagreements attests to that commitment. However, the Democrats’ legislative strategy purports a strange definition of bipartisanship. While expressing hope for a bipartisan passage, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already considered bypassing Republicans through reconciliation, passing the plan with only the Democrats’ simple majority. The Senate parliamentarian has already ruled this option is allowed under the Senate rules. The Biden administration is committed to negotiating with Republicans until May before they pursue this option.

It’s an interesting political strategy on both sides. The Republicans will likely remain firmly opposed to the plan with little leeway, as they have demonstrated in bipartisan meetings. If Democrats pass the infrastructure bill only through their simple majority, Republicans will label them hypocrites and unwilling to compromise, just as they did with the COVID-19 relief bill. This is despite the fact Republicans were not willing to compromise on the Democrats’ plan in the first place. If I tell my brother I’m going to support him at his tennis matches but never show up, am I really being supportive?

On the other side, Democrats will meet with Republicans, but will lean on the fact they don’t need negotiations to pass the bill. They have their simple majority and don’t need to compromise on anything; any attempt at bipartisanship is icing on the cake. If the bill passes without Republican support, they’ll criticize Republicans for being uncooperative, despite their willingness from the beginning to ignore Republican concerns. If I tell my brother I want to attend his tennis matches but I don’t consider them important, is he going to have faith I’ll show up at all?

If the bill will be bipartisan, it needs to be a true effort from both sides. Republicans and Democrats must commit to listening to each other and working out a compromise that aligns with the views of the American public. According to a New York Times and SurveyMonkey poll from this month, 64% of the American public approves of the American Jobs Plan. On specific policies, increasing spending on highways, bridges, roads, ports, waterways, airports and high-speed broadband access are supported by nearly 80% of Americans and a majority of Republicans. Additionally, a poll from Quinnipiac reveals a plurality of Americans support the plan, but that support increases to a majority when funding comes from higher taxes on corporations. Americans want an infrastructure plan and increased corporate taxes are a viable option of achieving it. Republicans need to listen on that end, especially when some of them have called for higher corporate taxes themselves in response to “woke companies” with socially liberal agendas. 

For the Democrats, they must decide whether they will be truly bipartisan. Republicans have created a “core” infrastructure package to invest in America’s roads, bridges and broadband networks that is roughly half the size of Biden’s plan. If they want to be bipartisan, Democrats should work with Republicans to pass that plan and implement the other programs in later legislation. Democrats could also choose not to be bipartisan and pass their full plan with a simple majority. It may require some minor changes to appease certain Democrats, such as raising the corporate tax rate to 25% instead of 28%, but it would be much more aligned to the Democratic vision than an actually bipartisan bill.

I’m not advocating for the Republicans or the Democrats. My purpose is to criticize the hypocrisy of both sides to call for bipartisanship with no intention of actually being bipartisan. Republicans know they will not budge and should be clear on that. No matter how slim, Democrats have the majority and can use the rules of the federal government to their advantage. That’s politics, but they shouldn’t call themselves bipartisan if they pursue that option.

Blake Ziegler is a sophomore at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He loves anything politics, especially things he doesn’t agree with. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or @NewsWithZig on Twitter if you want to see more of his opinions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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