Far too many bridges and roadways, water and sewer systems across the country are in desperate need of repairing or replacing.
This is often a topic of conversation among lawmakers on all governmental levels. With the high-paying jobs they bring and improvements they make, huge-scale public works projects can be very popular among constituents.
President Joe Biden has called for spending $1.2 trillion on a major infrastructure plan. There have been debates about how high the price tag on this should go and who exactly will pay for it all.
Such differences typically occur in discussions that public officials have about big legislative measures. It’s good to hash out these details.
But some Democrats muddied the waters early on. They began tossing in other items on their spending wish lists that they believed should be included in any proposal.
One mantra circulated was “Child care is infrastructure!” A bill with this title was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in March, and it sits in a committee.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont suggested a few other ideas for the infrastructure bill. In a June 29 interview with NPR host Rachel Martin, he explained why his support for the plan is in question.
“Because not so much of what the bipartisan bill has. It is what it doesn’t have. It would be absolutely irresponsible beyond belief if we did not address the existential crisis of climate change. And there’s virtually no money in the bipartisan bill for climate change,” Sanders said. “Furthermore, at a time when half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck and tens of millions of people are working for starvation wages, the time, in my view, is long overdue for government to start paying attention to the needs of workers and not just wealthy campaign contributors. And that means that, among other things, we have to understand that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major nation on Earth. And we’ve got to deal with that by finally dealing with a dysfunctional child care system. We need to make the child tax credit permanent. We need to deal with the reality we’re the only major country on Earth not to guarantee paid family and medical leave. We need to lower the cost of prescription drugs. We need to expand Medicare to cover dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses. And we have to make higher education affordable and deal with housing, as well.”
The issues that Sanders and his colleagues bring up are certainly worth consideration. But trying to stuff a bunch of unrelated items into a serious piece of legislation is one reason why major bills don’t get passed too often these days.
When they see a bill that has a chance of making it through the sausage-making process, many legislators can’t resist the temptation to load it with other spending desires. These usually have nothing to do with the aim of the bill, and that’s the main problem.
Massive omnibus bills become too easy for political rivals to oppose. Congressional leaders should focus on developing a plan to fund long-overdue capital works projects and get it signed into law.
If they want to address other concerns, that’s fine. But these items need to be debated in separate bills on their own merit.
Cramming them into the infrastructure plan will make this measure top heavy and lead to the usual gridlock we’ve come to expect from Washington. With an aging infrastructure in need of extensive work, we can’t afford business as usual.