OPINION - Editorial

OPINION | EDITORIAL: Infrastructure bill held hostage by progressives

Eat your vegetables before dessert

What a moment of triumph it was some weeks ago (or was it months?) when the upper chamber of Congress showed a rare moment of bipartisanship. In today's climate of all-or-nothing politics, it seemed like a miracle.

The final tally was 69-30 for a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. A whopping 19 Republicans (including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell) joined their Democratic colleagues in an attempt to improve America's roads and bridges and airports. Which, even if massively expensive, is something the federal government really ought to do.

If it sailed through the Senate with such ease, surely it would make record time (for political matters anyway) and soar through the U.S. House of Representatives and onto President Biden's desk for his signature, right?

Not so much.

Progressive Democrats in the House have held up the bipartisan infrastructure bill, demanding movement on another Democratic priority, a large social spending bill or "soft infrastructure" as the president has called it. Including funding for stuff like early childcare and two years at a community college tuition-free (which is not to be confused with "free") and money for parts of the Green New Deal and expanded health-care programs and guaranteed paid parental leave and nutrition programs and a lot of other stuff that might even sound good to most people. But not all of it should be the business of the federal government. Some of it shouldn't be the business of state government, either.

The price tag for this Democratic wish list started at $3.5 trillion, and Uncle Bernie wants to go even higher.

Two centrist Democrats stand between this huge soft infrastructure bill and reality. Those are, as you've probably seen in the headlines for months now, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).

While progressive pundits hammer those two names during just about every hour of cable news, not enough people put the spotlight on so-called progressive House Democrats holding up the bill that's already been approved by one chamber of the legislative branch.

It seems ridiculous that the bill that pays to fix things is being held hostage for a bill that pays to create a lot of new entitlements.

There will always be time to debate future spending for social programs like expanding pre-K and community college. It's not to say there's no merit to debating granting more people access to health care. But this nation already had a close call with crumbling infrastructure just weeks ago.

Who remembers the shutdown of the Interstate 40 bridge between West Memphis and the other Memphis? If you listened to the 911 call of the hero who spotted a huge problem and pleaded for quick action, you know this country came too close to disaster. A whopping 14 people died in 2002 when a different Interstate 40 bridge collapsed. And it's a darn good thing we didn't see that happen between/over West Memphis and East West Memphis this year.

That's just one example. Check out infrastructurereportcard.org, and you'll see how bad this country needs its infrastructure repaired. And the money to do that is being held up by those who want dessert first. What they really need to do is eat their vegetables and send the bill to President Biden.

As recent as Thursday, President Biden met with Sen. Manchin again, trying to find that magic number for the social spending bill. Here's more from The Hill:

"'The president and Senator Manchin had a good conversation about the president's Build Back Better agenda,' White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One. 'We're staying in close touch about this. We're talking to him and also his team. I don't have specifics about the meeting beyond that.'"

It seems like the president believes he's caught between warring parties. But the man, like all presidents, has a bully pulpit.

Democrats are at first and goal with this hard infrastructure bill. They could rubber-stamp that sucker and get the funds sent out to repair our roads, bridges and dams today. But instead, some of them would rather wait for a larger wish list that hasn't even seen kickoff yet. There's no reason to tie these two pieces of legislation together.

Dessert isn't going anywhere. Democrats have this government for at least another 14 months. They need to eat their vegetables. Not every vegetable dish is glazed beets. Sometimes you're looking at a loaded baked potato. Let's dive into this.