For several years, Congress and multiple presidents have been trying unsuccessfully to pass major legislation addressing America’s lingering infrastructure needs. That long and winding road has finally led to results with Monday’s signing of the more than $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
President Joe Biden is the one doing the signing, but this achievement was made possible by months of work from Democrats and Republicans alike, who refused to adopt a cynical and unfortunately popular version of politics that puts party interest and raw power ahead of the needs of the American people. These lawmakers, by doing the hard and sustained work of negotiation, helped prevent a divisive political climate from derailing action on an issue that both parties have been trying to address for a while.
“Earlier this year, I joined a group of 10 Senators — five Republicans and five Democrats — who were determined to break through the partisan gridlock and pass this long-overdue infrastructure investment for the American people,” Republican Sen. Susan Collins said earlier this month after the U.S. House of Representatives finally passed the infrastructure bill. The U.S. Senate passed the bill in August, and Collins was one of the lead negotiators of the deal. “After months of working night and day, our bipartisan negotiations resulted in a truly transformational package for our country that will make the most significant investment in American infrastructure since the establishment of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.”
The debate over infrastructure investment has included discussion over what counts as infrastructure. We’ve suggested throughout this process that, at least for Congress, bipartisanship and the ability to work across party lines is its own kind of legislative infrastructure. Lawmakers need to be able to navigate through political speed bumps to craft balanced agreement on the obvious issues.
“I’m deeply grateful for the partnership of my colleagues in Congress; together, we’ve crafted a bipartisan bill that will significantly improve our nation,” independent Sen. Angus King, who was part of a larger bipartisan group of negotiators, said after the House passed the bill. King emphasized the legislation’s “unprecedented” investment in broadband. “It wasn’t easy — but it was important, and we got it done. Now, the American people will reap the rewards.”
Like Maine’s two senators, both of the state’s U.S. representatives (both Democrats) voted for the infrastructure package.
“For far too long, our domestic infrastructure has been ignored – so much so, that the United States shamefully ranks 13th internationally in overall infrastructure quality,” said 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree in a Nov. 5 statement. “What’s worse is that we’re woefully unprepared for extreme conditions caused by climate change. The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act tonight signals an urgent and necessary shift in our plan to tackle the climate crisis and will take critical steps to advance Maine’s Climate Action Plan.”
Second District Rep. Jared Golden was involved in the bipartisan negotiations as part of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, and rightly pushed for the infrastructure deal to be taken up promptly in the House, and not be bogged down indefinitely by the process surrounding Democrats’ larger reconciliation effort.
“Democrats, Republicans, and the White House have worked together to make a once-in-a-generation investment in jobs and better roads, bridges, broadband, replacing lead pipes, and much more,” Golden said in a Nov. 6 statement. “This bill will create and support Maine construction jobs and it’s a clear win for our state and the entire country.”
It’s been disheartening, though not entirely surprising, to see how some Republican leaders — especially former President Donald Trump — have targeted the Republicans lawmakers who supported this deal. That’s a perspective that unabashedly prioritizes wins for a political party and an individual over wins for the country. It’s a perspective that emphasizes taking credit over getting results on well-established infrastructure needs. Call it a “My way, or no highways” approach. Talk about mixed up priorities.
Republican Rep. John Katko of New York was asked on Fox News about criticism from Republican colleagues, who say he gave Democrats a win by voting for the infrastructure bill. He rightly countered by saying he sees it as a “win for the American people.”
As Collins put it succinctly, “This infrastructure package is good for America.”
Maybe the idea of a strong bridge of bipartisanship in years past is overly romanticized — maybe the spirit of cross-party cooperation has never been that sturdy. But the infrastructure bill, and the work that took to get it across the finish line, offer some hope that this bipartisan bridge can be shored up for future debates about the many complicated issues facing this country.