If it were not for pure partisanship the national dialogue surrounding infrastructure would be a united one about the need to upgrade airports, power grids, ports, and classrooms. Every single person sees either in their daily life, or through news reports the necessity of applying funds to make bridges safer, water pipes align with health standards, and expressways compatible with 21st century needs.
Add in the robust economic uplift with good-paying jobs along with the cycle of more money in the hands of every sector of the business community and there is not a single convincing reason as to why infrastructure should not be a bipartisan winner.
I come from the decades-long understanding that legislation, such as transportation bills, was a winner for each congressional district. Everyone was able to see and feel the benefit with more road aids and projects so to better allow goods to get to market, rail traffic to run more smoothly, and airports to be more suited for the growing needs of the flying public. Each member of congress could go home and truthfully state they helped their constituents. Because they did.
In more recent times, however, I have often used transportation, and now infrastructure, as examples of how the inability of Congress to act in a united fashion underscores how dysfunctional government has become.
I had hoped that Donald Trump might have entered office in January 2017 and focused attention on the infrastructure needs. By focusing on that issue the nation would have created jobs, united politicians of all stripes, and helped solve one of our staggeringly large national problems. Needless to say, that did not happen.
I had also hoped that Republicans in Congress would have supported or worked with President Obama when he proposed a bill in his second term that would have generated jobs and needed internal improvements. To underscore the great imperative for infrastructure funding I urged Democrats to work with Trump on such a plan. Trump did, after all, correctly campaign on a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure plan. But that is as far as it proceeded.
The growing need for such investments has been a decades-long discussion. But sadly, as the list of needs lengthens the share of total spending on infrastructure, research and development has declined. Fiscal hawks, who now have again found their convictions since the November 2020 election, are trying to make a case that the creation of deeper structural deficits is most problematic.
Seemingly, there is never a good time to champion the infrastructure needs we see all around us.
There is ample evidence to show the problems in the nation, but also the desire of citizens for action, along with their understanding such massive projects need to be paid for. I selected the topic of clean water and polling data from April 2020 to make the point.
Americans are worried about the future of our water infrastructure and want investment now before it fails. Eighty-four percent of Americans support (with 47% strongly supporting) increasing federal investment to rebuild our pipes, pumps, reservoirs, treatment plants, and other facilities – to ensure safe, reliable water service for all communities. Three-quarters (73%) of Americans support investment to ensure our drinking water and wastewater systems are resilient, even when climate change is mentioned. This includes both Democrats and Republicans.
There is also a willingness to pay for better water. When informed that ratepayers would bear some costs, 73% continue to support capital investments at the national, state, and local levels. And – 62% of voters support a proactive program to upgrade water infrastructure, versus fixing problems as they arise, or a pay-as-you-go approach.
We know what happens when we continually deprioritize investment-related expenditures for partisan rhetoric and short-term applause. But we also know what happens when leaders step up and speak to the future needs of the nation.
In the early 1800s, De Witt Clinton was a mayor of New York City and later the governor. He was instrumental in the first major feat of infrastructure with the building of the Erie Canal. He pressed for the measure to be passed and worked to overcome the opposition of many others with vested interests. In the end when the job was done a canal 363 miles long, 4 feet deep, 28 feet wide at the bottom, and 40 at the top, with 83 locks, lifting boats to a height of almost 600 feet, and costing over $7 million dollars was created. Consider that bold project in the context of a new nation with a rudimentary economic system. Where there is a will…..however!
The partisan battle lines are already being constructed, regarding the $2 trillion infrastructure bill proposed by President Biden. The danger of such rigid conformity for the benefit of the Republican political base is that the needed infrastructure problems are not being met. Again! We must do better so that our ability to govern meets the needs of the nation.
(Last year I created a 59-second video about the grand day the Erie Canal was opened. It seems timely so I close my post with it.)