What might unite a divided Washington behind Joe Biden? Unsexy infrastructure

The outgoing president is seeking to undermine the legitimacy of your administration. You won’t even know which party controls the Senate until after two January runoff elections in Georgia. No matter how those races turn out, Congress is almost evenly divided between two incessantly bickering parties, and your Democrats actually lost ground in the House in this year’s election.

Also read: Why farm politics doesn’t win elections in India

Is there any issue—any initiative—you could turn to with hope it might bring together the disparate pieces of this fractured system?

One word: Infrastructure.

Yes, unsexy infrastructure. Roads, bridges, airports, subways, broadband networks, windmills, solar farms. Infrastructure just might be the vehicle that could smash through the political roadblocks in Washington, and perhaps demonstrate that, yes, things can get done. It isn’t dramatic, but maybe we’ve all had enough drama for a while.

In conversations in recent days it seems that the Biden team and legislators in both parties see the potential for bipartisan action here. “If we have willing partners in the other chamber, we can do it for sure,” says Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican. He notes that the public works committee he led last year unanimously passed a highway and infrastructure bill, though it later fell apart in the House over how much to push green-energy projects.

Indeed, the prospects for a big infrastructure deal seemed pretty good last year until President Trump stormed out of a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders in a feud over their investigations of him and his campaign. Still, the broad support that fueled hopes then continues now.

“When it comes to infrastructure, that always has been bipartisan,” says Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar. “The famous words are, there’s no such thing as a Democratic bridge or a Republican bridge.” Rep. Cedric Richmond, who has been named a senior White House adviser to Mr. Biden, said Monday night at a meeting of The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council that there could be a push for a “quick” infrastructure bill when the new administration takes power.

Let us count the ways infrastructure action bridges political divides. Everybody agrees the nation’s infrastructure systems are in decline and in need of help. Business and labor leaders both love infrastructure action, because it provides jobs and economic stimulus for an economy still trying to climb out of the coronavirus ditch, as well as a more efficient foundation for the American economy in an increasingly competitive world.

Blue states with urban areas are in dire need of help for mass transit systems that have been laid low by the pandemic, so they would love it. So would red states with a need for rural road improvements and, more than ever, a big expansion of broadband access to help more residents move into the new online work environment.

An infrastructure bill could be a way to start addressing climate-change issues by using some of its funding to pay for electric-vehicle charging stations, solar arrays and wind projects. That has appeal on the political left, obviously.

On the right, red areas of the country have been hit hard with river-flooding problems as weather patterns have changed, a problem crying out for traditional, federally funded Army Corps of Engineers solutions.

The problem with big infrastructure plans always has been how to pay for them, and that would remain true. But a cynical response would be that both parties in Washington have stopped caring about the deficit, so why resume worrying about it now? A less cynical response would be that, at a time of low interest rates and high need for stimulus, it may make sense to use deficit spending in a cause that at least would produce durable and tangible improvements.

Still, responsible people in both parties would want to find a way to pay for an infrastructure plan. The federal gasoline tax, the traditional starting point for funding infrastructure spending, simply isn’t bringing in enough money to carry the load. Republicans will want to find some way to put fees on the nation’s growing fleet of electric cars because they contribute nothing to the gas-tax revenue stream.

Beyond that, this could be the one area where Republicans might be willing to listen to Democrats’ demands to raise some tax rates—or maybe they will resist and the idea will die.

Similarly, liberal Democrats likely would try to seize a bipartisan infrastructure bill and turn it into a backdoor version of the giant Green New Deal climate-change package, which could kill it.

So, the challenge would be keeping the plan somewhere in the political center.

Here’s a final impetus for action: Mr. Biden loves the idea of a big infrastructure push. When The Wall Street Journal sponsored a Democratic candidate forum on infrastructure plans in Nevada earlier this year, Mr. Biden was an eager participant. “Infrastructure is not a Republican or a Democratic thing,” he declared. “There’s overwhelming incentive.”

Perhaps we will soon know whether that’s truly the case.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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