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Opinion | Deck the Halls With Infrastructure

OK, people, holiday season is upon us. Lots of socializing to do. You’ve got to come up with some current events conversations. So all thoughts turn to … the infrastructure bill!

Really, it’s a cheery topic. You say: “Hey, Joe Biden got that infrastructure bill!”

And your friends say:

“Care for another cocktail?”

“Did you see the football game?”

“Yeah, that’s … good!”

Maybe not the sexiest topic in the world, but do you want to chat about the other one? You know, Biden’s still-to-come, very ambitious plan to improve the social safety net, Build Back Better?

We will stop now for one minute to ask why an administration with two big programs it’s been pushing all year, the one with a ton of construction projects and the other on social services, called the social services one Build Back Better.

Meanwhile, the infrastructure one is the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Less punchy, right? Nicknamed IIJA? Rhymes with Ouija? But don’t let it worry you. I am presuming we’ll all stick with “the infrastructure one.”

Can’t talk about this enough. One trillion dollars! And the bill even got a slice of Republican support. By the standards of present-day Washington, the votes were a chorus of amity. In the Senate it was 69 to 30, and in the House, 228 to 206.

Supporters included eight Republicans in the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group that works on — well, you know. Just wanted to mention its name.

Opponents ranged from House progressives who are trying to mobilize behind the social services plan to our old pal Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who posted the phone numbers on Twitter of fellow Republicans who voted for what she said was “Joe Biden’s Communist takeover of America.”

And what, you may wonder, was Senator Joe Manchin doing when all this cash was being doled out? He is, of course, one of the Democrats who have been a total drag on the Biden agenda, citing his deep concern about overspending and the deficit.

Manchin was fine with the infrastructure bill! This has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that his wife is a leader of the Appalachian Regional Commission, which is slated to get a bunch of money.

Mitch McConnell called the bill a “godsend,” which is surprising for the Republican leader but perfectly reasonable for a guy whose constituents, when they are traveling across the Ohio River, have to worry about being hit by concrete falling from the Brent Spence bridge.

Be prepared. Once we move along and the actual spending begins, there are gonna be some not-totally-desperately-necessary, porky projects uncovered. After all, this is an enormous, enormous commitment. If you adjust for inflation, it’s about the amount we spent developing the Interstate Highway System.

But there’s the prospect for a ton of good things — from expanding broadband accessibility in rural areas to reducing lead contamination in water pipes. And it’s driving Donald Trump nuts.

“Why is it that Old Crow Mitch McConnell voted for a terrible Democrat Socialist Infrastructure Plan, and induced others in his Party to do likewise, when he was incapable of getting a great Infrastructure Plan wanting to be put forward by me and the Republican Party?” our ex-president wanted to know.

Back in the day, Trump did indeed call for a big infrastructure plan, which you will be astonished to hear totally failed.

Let’s go back to 2019. Infrastructure was on the move! Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi were at the White House, primed to meet with Trump on their mutual plan. The president came in, refused to shake anyone’s hand and announced he would not talk about infrastructure while under investigation by Democrats.

We will not follow the story any further except to say that Trump then held a press conference in which he howled that Pelosi had used the word “cover-up,” and he then went into a tirade about Donald Jr. being picked on. And that was that.

What, you may ask, ever happened to Donald Jr.? He’s busy with fund-raising mailings, including a chance for you to be “the first Patriot to sign the OFFICIAL TRUMP THANKSGIVING CARD.”

And despite his infrastructure rant, Trump himself seems focused on — yes! — collecting money. His most interesting communication of the week was an email offering fans an official Trump Christmas stocking for $50. If you want to think about a holiday downer, truly, think about looking over the fireplace and seeing a huge sock with Donald Trump’s face on it.

But about that infrastructure bill. One very nice thing about the package is that it gives a semi-decent amount of money to public transit — close to $39 billion.

You can judge the value of public transit by its enemies — these days, one leading opponent is the dreaded Koch organization. As Hiroko Tabuchi reported in The Times, the Koch-driven Americans for Prosperity has pushed anti-transit campaigns around the country since 2015. One, in New Jersey, suggested a proposed gas tax increase would force a typical father to give away the baby’s milk bottle and the family dog. “Save Sparky,” the ad begged.

This, certainly, has nothing to do with the fact that Koch Industries produces gasoline and asphalt.

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