Let’s face it: it’s going to be a tough sell to get an infrastructure bill passed, regardless of how badly it’s needed. Former transportation secretary Ray LaHood said, “America is one big pothole right now,” and he was right when he said that years ago. We keep falling further and further behind not just on upgrades to infrastructure, but just to maintain what we already have that isn’t enough. Despite the awful “report card” ratings the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. again this year, things don’t seem to be budging on the nearly $5 trillion funding needed to get things back up to grades that most students would be proud to bring home.
On top of just maintaining roads, U.S. infrastructure is falling behind advances in technology. Biden’s proposal to add 500,000 public charging stations for EVs isn’t a great leap into the future. The U.S. is behind on that, too, and adding those stations would still leave us behind even China. The question isn’t how far ahead any of this would get us — the question is how far behind we want to be.
Rome Is Burning
What’s President Biden doing while Rome burns? That question may sound like an exaggeration, but keep in mind that ASCE gives bridges a C rating, with 1 in 13 bridges labeled as deficient, and 1 in 10 operating under reduced loads and speeds because they can no longer support the weight that they are supposed to. We aren’t operating on the question of whether a big collapse like we saw in Minnesota in 2007 will happen again, but when. Without a major course correction, we will see more death and destruction.
Fortunately, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is fighting for things in this realm that Americans badly need.
“He calls my cell phone and I have his,” Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) told CNN. “It certainly is just nice to be able to talk to somebody and talk about that different points of view and the pros and the cons without getting into an argument and just shutting off and then starting in with name calling. … That is very refreshing.”
LGBTQ Nation recently ran a piece detailing the inroads Sec. Buttigieg is making with people on both sides of the aisle on the infrastructure bill. Not only is he appearing on media to gather public support for the badly needed infrastructure bill, but he’s also spending the time it takes to forge personal one-on-one relationships with people on Capitol Hill who will ultimately give the infrastructure bill a “yea” or a “nay.” This has even led one representative to call him the “future President of the United States.”
“Pete Buttigieg ran for the Democratic nomination,” some Democratic aides told CNN. “Inherently, he should be somebody that the Republicans on Capitol Hill naturally dislike. He ran on a bunch of progressive Democratic priorities. But he’s already put in a lot of the necessary work and now Republicans and Democrats alike – from the most progressive to the most moderate – feel like he’s someone they can work well with.”
The piece goes on to describe a number of seemingly immovable Republican representatives and senators who have taken a liking to Sec. Buttigieg because he personally put the time in to get to know them and hear them out.
He doesn’t have their votes yet, but the bill is still being drafted and improved to get the votes it needs. By having these professional working relationships in place, Buttigieg will be in a position to know what changes the bill will need to have a chance of passage, and will have built up enough good will to keep more good things (like EV charging stations) in the bill for final passage.
Why This Matters
While it’s fun to argue over politically charged hot-button issues, that’s not what we sent people to Washington to do. There are real society-wide life-or-death issues that aren’t getting the play they deserve. Bad infrastructure kills people when it makes the news. It poisons drinking water every day. It deprives children in rural areas of much-needed educational opportunities. There are so many other harms that I could write a series of 10 articles about it.
To many, adding EV charging stations might seem like a minor sub-issue with an infrastructure bill, but looks are deceiving. Either we believe that climate change is an existential threat or we don’t. There’s no middle ground where we think that’s a vitally important issue, but it’s okay to put that on the back burner when a more sexy (but less important) political issue comes along that undercuts support for important action on climate change. If climate change and infrastructure are less important to you than other things, you should really take a mental inventory and think about what is going to hurt future generations more.
Past generations, up to present, failed that test. Our generation can’t afford to keep hitting the snooze button while the world falls apart around us.
I’m not trying to chastise the readership here for supporting President Biden, because the alternative was quite a bit worse, but we need to be recognizing who is showing real leadership in Washington on these vital issues and who is not. We need to encourage the Biden administration to shape up and do right by us, because we can’t wait for another election to get this right.
If we can’t put any courage behind our convictions, they are obviously not something we truly believe in. It’s time for the Biden Administration to follow Sec. Buttigieg’s lead on this.
Featured Image: Official portrait of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (Public Domain)