That said, one must admit that Senate Republicans, especially Mitch McConnell, effectively blocked infrastructure spending even when Trump was in the White House. The main reason “infrastructure week” became a gag line was the Trump administration’s haplessness and lack of seriousness, its inability to formulate anything resembling a coherent plan. But McConnell’s passive-aggressive resistance also played a role.
So what was that about? Ever since Reagan Republicans have been committed to the view that government is always the problem, never the solution — and, of course, that taxes must always be cut, never increased. They’re not going to make an exception for infrastructure. Indeed, the very fact that infrastructure spending would be popular counts against it; they fear that it might help legitimize a broader role for government in general.
Finally, the modern Republican Party seems deeply allergic to any kind of public program that doesn’t give profit-making private players a big role, even if it’s hard to see what purpose those private players serve. For example, unlike the rest of Medicare, drug coverage, introduced under George W. Bush, can be accessed only through private insurance companies.
When Trump’s advisers unveiled their infrastructure “plan” (it was little more than a vague sketch), I immediately noticed that it carefully avoided suggesting that we might just, you know, build infrastructure the way Eisenhower did. Instead, it proposed a complex and surely unworkable system of tax credits to private investors who would, it was hoped, build the infrastructure we needed.
If Trump’s people had ever gotten around to an infrastructure plan, it would probably have looked like the one investment program the administration did put into effect, the creation of “opportunity zones” that were supposed to help Americans living in low-income areas. What that program actually ended up doing was provide a bonanza to wealthy investors, who used the tax break to build things like luxury housing.
Put it this way: The modern G.O.P. just won’t do public programs unless they offer vast opportunities for profiteering.