Waterways Journal Editorial
WJ Editorial

High Stakes Poker Game Playing Out

After much twisting and turning, the Senate passed the “Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act” (H.R. 3684) by a vote of 69-30.  Nineteen Republican Senators voted for the legislation.  The bill provides $548 billion in additional spending.  When combined with existing baseline infrastructure spending, total funding for infrastructure will be approximately $944 billion over five years and $1.2 trillion over eight years.

Of that total, ports and waterways get about $17.3 billion, split among the Corps of Engineers, Department of Transportation, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and General Services Administration. About $9.55 billion is provided for the Corps’ civil works mission. Of that, $5.15 billion is for construction to address backlogs of authorized projects. Operation and maintenance gets about $4 billion over three years, with funding for dredging federal navigation projects and repairing damage to Corps projects from natural disasters. 

The bill has been welcomed by farm groups as well as port and waterways interests. Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, said, “We have increasingly become a spending nation vs. an investing nation.  When you spend, you allocate resources today in exchange for value today.  It’s an immediate gratification.  In contrast, when you invest, you allocate resources today in exchange for value tomorrow and beyond.  It’s delayed gratification.  Constructing or enhancing roads, bridges, locks and dams, ports, etc. is clearly an example of investment as these assets will provide value to the American people for years to come.”

That support may be moot if the Democrats insist on maintaining a linkage between the infrastructure bill and their larger $3.5 trillion spending bill loaded with their priorities on climate, healthcare and more. When President Biden first let slip that he intended to link the infrastructure bill to the broader $3.5 trillion bill, it caused a temporary uproar, and he had to backpedal. Now that the Senate has passed the infrastructure bill, the linkage is back. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed again and again that she will not advance the infrastructure bill unless the larger bill is passed, with its massive spending on climate, poverty and healthcare measures favored by the party’s progressive wing. 

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Everyone voices support for infrastructure. It’s a term that polls well and tests well with the public, and politicians know that. That’s why the Democrats have stretched the “infrastructure” label to include things like elder care.  

But if the politicians really cared about infrastructure as much as they claim to, they would support it independently of any other agenda in a stand-alone bill. Instead, the Democrats are playing a high-stakes poker game with infrastructure as the pot. With an evenly divided Senate and divisions among Democrats as well, the infrastructure bill could still be derailed by disputes having little or nothing to do with infrastructure itself.  That’s a shame.