President Joe Biden’s redefinition of the word “bipartisan” is wise, even necessary. Measures that have majority support among regular folks throughout the country– say, universal background checks for firearms purchases– have “bipartisan” support because lots of citizens of both major parties approve: that makes sense. If not a single GOP senator or representative will vote for something that practically everybody in America wants, that’s their problem.
Or, it should be. Given that legislators are there to advocate for the things their constituents want, a situation in which said legislators are somehow unwilling or unable to do so should be a difficult situation for them, as it would be for anyone who can’t or won’t perform the tasks in their job description. The Biden strategy is, or should be, to expose this disconnect.
That project got off to a good start with the American Rescue Plan. The bill (now law) brought financial relief to American families, states, cities and schools, funded COVID vaccine rollout, and was (rather unsurprisingly) popular in the United States of America. It got not a single Republican vote in either house of Congress; they voted as if it was the Shoot Puppy Dogs Act. This is the kind of scenario that, repeated often enough, might eventually make it clear to people that the GOP is responsive to something or someone other than mere voters.
By the same token, I do not think it was wise to blow up the definition of “infrastructure.”
Infrastructure as previously defined was, famously, the stuff of bipartisan support and cooperation. Inside the DC beltway, these measures are (or were) popular because they meant good jobs and fat contracts out in the states and districts where the work happens. Outside the beltway, people generally approve of bridges that don’t collapse, roadways that don’t scrape your muffler off, water you don’t have to boil, and ports that allow the big ships to bring in the stuff we want and need.
Had Biden introduced a bill addressing our enormous physical infrastructure deficit, he would have got the same number of GOP votes he got for the American Rescue Plan — that is, none. The job of the Republican legislator these days is to oppose the current administration, period; this we know. So, that bill would have left Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy to explain to their underlings why it is that they are now required to vote against roads and bridges, ports and water.
Instead, the GOP gets to cry “Nanny state!”
Biden has redefined “infrastructure” as “any and all things that will make this a kinder and better economy and society,” more or less. I don’t dispute that the non-physical “infrastructure” he advocates is needed — basically, massive funding for childcare, eldercare, and care in general– but that is not the stuff of real popular consensus at present.
That case could be made. It seems to me it would be better made in its own right, on its own terms, rather than being shoe-horned into an “infrastructure” bill. The current proposal seems to me disadvantageous to both traditional infrastructure and to the “caring economy” proposition. It makes it easier for the GOP to get away with opposing roads and bridges, and it makes funding for childcare etc. look like something brought in through the side door.
Eric W. Kuhn lives in Middletown.