The infrastructure bill, whose fate in Congress is still uncertain, “is everything to us,” said a vice president of LaFargeHolcim speaking at the recent Waterways Symposium held in St. Louis. It was on everyone’s mind at the event. Edward Belk, program manager for the Mississippi Valley Engineer Division, called it an “unprecedented opportunity” to address backlogged needs of the inland waterways lock and dam system. Speakers joked that they couldn’t begin their talk with a prediction of how or when it would pass.
It’s unfortunate that the congressional math is against it, according to Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, a non-partisan newsletter. He gave a rundown of Tuesday’s election results and what it means for the passage of an infrastructure bill. He noted that the elections produced an unexpected Republican win in Virginia, which had been trending Democratic since 2009. New Jersey’s election was also bad news for the Democrats. Although the Democratic candidate won in a strongly Democratic state, the Republican challenger mounted a surprisingly strong challenge, and the election was much closer than expected.
Both of these results strengthened reasons for Republicans in the House and Senate to do nothing to give President Joe Biden or House Democrats a win. Instead, given the election results, they are calculating they can simply wait until the 2022 election with good hopes of taking back both the House and Senate. That was Gonzales’ own prediction of the most likely scenario, given that the president’s party virtually always does poorly in mid-term elections, losing an average of 30 seats. Republicans only have to gain five seats to retake the House of Representatives, and one to regain the Senate.
On the other side, the progressive Democratic faction represented by Sen. Bernie Sanders and House progressives might have been able to pass the Senate infrastructure bill, or something like it, as a stand-alone. But instead of calculating that getting a bill passed—any bill—might increase the chances of Democratic candidates with the voters, and therefore increase their majority, the House progressives insisted on linking the infrastructure bill to a much larger and more controversial spending bill that was steadfastly opposed by Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. In a 50-50 Senate where every single Democratic vote is needed to pass anything, that miscalculation proved costly.
We’ve said all along that infrastructure is not and should not be a political issue. The passing of an infrastructure bill would arguably be a win for all incumbents, but more importantly, a big win for the U.S. Republicans and Democrats will have plenty of opportunities to do battle on issues that are more appropriate for partisan debate between now and the mid-terms.