The failure of the House to vote on a $1.2 trillion national infrastructure bill drew condemnation from moderate Arizona Democrats — and criticism from Republicans.

Democratic liberals in the House insisted they wouldn’t vote for the $1.2 trillion, multi-year package approved on a bipartisan vote in the Senate until they get a chance to vote on a much larger, 10-year, $3.5 trillion “social infrastructure” bill. However, that larger bill right now doesn’t have the Democratic votes to make it through the Senate.

The furious debate over the linkage between the two bills took a back seat last week to a frantic scramble to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a fiscally disastrous default. Senate Republicans for weeks refused to raise the debt limit, assuming Democrats would suffer political damage if they raised the limit for previously approved spending without any Republican votes.

“I am very frustrated and deeply disappointed that the Senate-passed Infrastructure and Jobs Act was not brought to the floor for a vote,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Oak Creek), who represents most of northern Arizona, including southern Gila County and the White Mountains. “Hardworking American families deserve better than a Congress that allows partisan bickering to prevent good legislation from moving forward.”

U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who remains one of the chief sticking points to passing the much larger measure in the Senate, called the decision to postpone a vote on the $1.2 trillion bill “deeply disappointing.

“Denying Americans millions of good-paying jobs, safer roads, cleaner water, more reliable electricity, and better broadband only hurts everyday families. Arizonans expect their lawmakers to consider legislation on the merits — rather than obstruct new jobs and critical infrastructure investments for no substantive reason.”

On the other hand, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott), who represents northern Gila County, savaged the Democrats and insisted he wouldn’t have voted for the “atrocious” bill, anyway.

“This is a real mess for Democrats and it’s all of their own making. The Democrats couldn’t organize a two-car funeral procession,” he said in his weekly newsletter.

Gosar said he wouldn’t vote for the Senate infrastructure bill because only 10% of the money would actually go to infrastructure, a claim at odds with the calculation of independent analysts. “I’m not going to vote for it if it ever comes to the House floor, and here’s why: this infrastructure legislation will add $400 billion to the deficit.”

Gosar also said he would vote against increasing the debt limit until Democrats come up with a plan to “cut wasteful spending.” The National Debt grew by $7 trillion during President Trump’s term — hitting $27 trillion. It will likely grow faster under Biden. “Simply issuing new debt to pay for existing debt is nonsensical. I cannot support this irresponsible policy,” wrote Gosar.

The Senate’s hard infrastructure bill has gotten caught up in a much larger debate about the “social infrastructure” bill favored by progressives, that includes things like preschool and day care subsidies, free community college tuition, payments to families, expansion of health care coverage, big investments in renewable energy, lower prescription drug prices, wildfire, drought and flood infrastructure, affordable housing incentives, immigration and border security, rural development and others. The bill would cost about $350 billion annually for a decade, with about two-thirds of the cost offset by higher taxes.

The smaller, $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill would also roll out over the next decade and include just $550 billion in new spending.

That includes:

• $110 billion for roads and bridges, which includes money for transportation research and projects to reduce congestion on existing highways.

• $66 billion for railroads, mostly upgrades for existing freight and passenger lines — with no money for new, high-speed rail projects.

• $65 billion for upgrades to the nation’s power grids, but to prevent blackouts and hacking of the grid and for money to enable the grid to handle more green energy projects — like wind and solar.

• $65 billion for broadband, including money to expand the internet in rural and low-income communities and subsidies for low-income people who can’t afford internet.

• $63 billion for water infrastructure, including getting rid of lead pipes, chemical cleanup to protect drinking water and water development for tribal communities. That includes $8 billion for western water projects in the face of drought on the Colorado River that this year and next will cause water rationing for Arizona — mostly in agriculture.

• $47 billion for cyber security and climate change, including projects to prevent hackers from bringing down the grid and holding government agencies hostage for the data as well as projects to deal with flooding, wildfires, droughts and extreme weather events.

• $39 billion for public transit, including both subway systems and more bus routes to provide options for seniors and the disabled.

• $25 billion for airports including air traffic control and runway upgrades.

• $21 billion to clean up superfund sites, abandoned mines and old oil and gas wells. That would include abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Reservation and near the Rim of the Grand Canyon as well as old oil and gas pipelines, like those now leaking into the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean after hurricanes damaged pipes on the seafloor.

• $17 billion for ports, $11 billion for road safety, $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, $7.5 billion for electric school buses.

The last several Republican and Democratic administrations have pushed infrastructure bills, with minimal results. President Donald Trump signed a $6 trillion water infrastructure act in 2018, with money mostly going to Army Corps of Engineers projects. However, he could not pass his own $2 trillion package.

Moderate Democrats like O’Halleran and Sinema are anxious to enact the hard infrastructure bill to lock in concrete accomplishments, with the pandemic remaining stubbornly entrenched and economic growth once more slowing.

O’Halleran said, “We cannot allow politics and petty partisanship to continue to impede one of the largest investments in our nation’s history that will meet our infrastructure needs and the needs of our families. This bill will put people back to work in good-paying jobs, provide students with the broadband they need to succeed in their education, deliver much-needed funding for water infrastructure in Arizona, clean up abandoned mines on tribal lands, grow our economies, expand access to telehealth, and fix our rural roads. These issues are decades in the making and have held Arizonans back for far too long. These partisan games must come to an end. I am calling on House leadership to keep members in Washington until we are able to make progress towards a deal on this standalone bill.”

Sinema made a similar argument. She has faced strong criticism from Democrats as a result of her opposition to the $3.5 trillion package, which would need every single Democratic vote to get through the Senate via a budget reconciliation bill — the only way to avoid a promised Republican filibuster.

“Congress was designed as a place where representatives of Americans with valid and diverse views find compromise and common ground. Good faith negotiations, however, require trust. Over the course of this year Democratic leaders have made conflicting promises that could not be kept. Canceling the infrastructure vote further erodes that trust.”

But Gosar just savored the moment. “Joe Biden himself asked Democrats not to vote for it!!! How whacked is that?”

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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(1) comment

Mike White

Just two points from the article that are dubious: 1) dumping money into Climate Change schemes is not investing in infrastructure; 2) although Senator Sinema has been acting like a moderate, Senator O'Halloran has been a consistent partisan liberal Democrat.

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