ICYMI: Washington Post: They opposed the infrastructure law. Now, some in the GOP court its cash.
July 10, 2023
Key Point: Nearly two years after Congress finalized the first in a series of measures to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure and combat climate change, some of the GOP lawmakers who originally tried to scuttle the spending are now welcoming it. They have privately courted newly available federal money to improve their local roads, bridges, pipes, ports and internet connections, and publicly celebrated when their cities and states have secured a portion of the aid.
Washington Post: They opposed the infrastructure law. Now, some in the GOP court its cash.
By Tony Romm
- When the Biden administration awarded Alabama roughly $1.4 billion in late June to expand high-speed internet access across the state, its senior Republican senator rejoiced.
- “Great to see Alabama receive crucial funds to boost ongoing broadband efforts,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville wrote on Twitter, without acknowledging the money originated in a law that he — and dozens of other Republicans — had voted against.
- Nearly two years after Congress finalized the first in a series of measures to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure and combat climate change, some of the GOP lawmakers who originally tried to scuttle the spending are now welcoming it. They have privately courted newly available federal money to improve their local roads, bridges, pipes, ports and internet connections, and publicly celebrated when their cities and states have secured a portion of the aid.
- The dynamic has created some uncomfortable contrasts, since those same GOP lawmakers still maintain that President Biden’s legislative agenda has served as a drag on the nation’s economy, worsening inflation. The White House, meanwhile, has seized on Republicans’ shifting tone as part of its new campaign to promote “Bidenomics,” which took Biden and his top advisers to Michigan, Ohio and other 2024 election battlegrounds over the past week to tout their work.
- Appearing Thursday in South Carolina, the president ratcheted up the attack: He specifically called attention to Tuberville and other Republicans who are now “claiming credit” for the new jobs and other economic gains that their original votes might have denied.
- “All those members of Congress who voted against it suddenly realize how great it is, and they’re bragging about it,” Biden said.
- In spring 2021, Democrats secured a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package, before pairing with Republicans that fall to finalize a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law. The following year, lawmakers approved $52 billion to boost the manufacturing of small yet powerful computer chips, part of a larger campaign to bolster U.S. science and technology against China.
- Democratic votes alone clinched the final measure, called the Inflation Reduction Act, in summer 2022. It provisioned roughly $400 billion in new tax credits and other policies to reduce carbon emissions while empowering the government to help lower seniors’ health-care costs.
- The past two weeks, in particular, have brought a flood of announcements teeing up billions in new federal aid — including grants to purchase clean buses, tax benefits to expand green energy projects and funding competitions for large companies that make semiconductors domestically. By the administration’s count, it has awarded $225 billion under just the infrastructure law, translating into about 35,000 projects now underway nationally.
- At times, Republicans have faulted some of that spending as wasteful — and they have sought, aggressively and occasionally unsuccessfully, to repeal Biden’s signature legislative accomplishments. But a growing roster of voices in the GOP also has been willing to abandon their fierce opposition whenever the federal money starts flowing in their direction.
- Some of the sharpest critics of the infrastructure law, meanwhile, rejoiced when the Transportation Department unveiled the recipients of roughly $2.2 billion to help rehabilitate roads and bridges in late June. The beneficiaries included two highway improvement projects in Arkansas, which received about $50 million, drawing public praise from Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton.
- “I’m pleased Senator Boozman and I were able to secure the grants for these projects,” Cotton said in a joint statement last month.
- Two years earlier, though, the duo had joined 28 other Senate Republicans in voting against the infrastructure law — which allowed the government to spend up to $1.2 trillion. Explaining his stance at the time, Cotton said Arkansans “do not want President Biden’s ‘social infrastructure’ and climate alarmism, especially under the threat of increased inflation and higher taxes.”
- Boozman and Cotton did later support December 2022 legislation that actually supplied the money to carry out the infrastructure law, including funds known as RAISE grants that came to benefit their state. The two senators’ offices declined to comment.
- Another previous opponent of the law, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) similarly heralded the roughly $28 million awarded to the cities of Laurel and Meridian for road improvements last month. Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, a top appropriator, delighted in the receipt of $1.6 million to replace a bridge in Courtland, Ala., noting in a release he is “always happy to support this type of funding in Congress” — even though he voted against the infrastructure law that expanded the RAISE program.
- And Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the chairman of the House’s powerful Transportation Committee, said he was “proud” to share the news that the city of Maryville would receive $1.3 million to repair its portion of a local highway, adding in a Facebook post: “Congratulations to all who helped secure this funding!”
- Spokespeople for Hyde-Smith, Aderholt and Graves did not respond to requests for comment.
- In West Columbia, S.C., the president on Thursday swiped at Republicans who voted against the infrastructure law, while highlighting that the state has already received $2.6 billion in new federal aid — money to expand regional airports, prevent flooding and upgrade transit.
- “Our plan is working,” Biden proclaimed.
- Earlier in the week, Michael Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, peered into a newly dug hole in the front yard of a Grand Rapids., Mich., home, as he called attention to a roughly $15 billion federal effort to replace old lead water pipes. A day later, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Albany, N.Y., to showcase the administration’s work on wind energy. And the president’s chief infrastructure coordinator, Mitch Daniels, toured New Mexico on Friday to highlight the administration’s efforts to promote broadband connectivity, including its recent $42 billion in new investments.
- The money aims to deliver speedy internet to a roughly 8 million homes, businesses and other locations that still lack sufficient service by 2030, though Biden would not actually be in office by then even if he won the next election. In late June, the administration divvied up the funding, setting in motion a roughly two-year process for states to decide how to spend the money with federal supervision.
- Lawmakers from both parties quickly heralded the aid: In Texas, for example, Sen. John Cornyn (R) shared an update about how his state had received the largest federal grant, exceeding $3.3 billion, only to later face a barrage of criticism for having voted against the bill authorizing the funding in the first place.
- “You bet I did,” Cornyn later tweeted in a defense of his stance, citing the fact that he believed the legislation added to the debt and worsened inflation. “Broadband is important, but you don’t solve one problem by creating two more.”
- In Alabama, meanwhile, Tuberville extolled broadband as “vital” for growing the local economy, even as he renewed his attacks on Biden for pursuing trillions of dollars in new spending that had caused “record high inflation.” His spokesman, Stafford, later stressed there is “no contradiction” between voting against the law and supporting its individual provisions once they take effect.
- But the senator’s stance prompted Biden to fire back at Tuberville in his own tweet last week, as he ramped up his effort to champion new federal funding on the horizon.
- “See you at the groundbreaking,” the president said.