Opinions

Infrastructure: A key test for what Republicans used to stand for

I first learned the word “infrastructure” when, like many American families, my family took to the interstate highways for the holidays and for summer travel. I also learned that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System. As such, “infrastructure” is one of those government terms that I associate with the Republican Party. But now, with Sen. Mitch McConnell’s instantaneous vow to fight President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan and declaring no Republican will support it, perhaps I should no longer make this association.

It’s a topsy-turvy world. Prior to President Donald Trump’s four years of cuddling with Vladimir Putin, I used to associate “national security” with the Republican Party. Similarly, prior to the Jan. 6 insurrection, I used to associate “law and order” with the Republican Party. I hope there is still a chance to not let “infrastructure” similarly fall away from what the Republican Party once stood for. If it does, it risks going against what most Americans support.

This is not the first time that the Republican Party bucked popular support. Can they risk a second time? According to Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans favored the COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress. Furthermore, a majority — 57% — of Americans saw the Biden administration rather than GOP leaders as the one making “good faith” efforts to work with opponents on COVID-19 aid.

Now comes Biden’s second push on legislation — infrastructure. As a bill, Biden’s infrastructure package, called the American Jobs Plan, is not as popular as the COVID-19 relief bill; it only garners 45% support. However, the same Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 79% of Americans support a government overhaul of roads, rails, bridges and ports. Support is similarly strong for high-speed internet, lead pipe replacement, housing and tax credits for renewable energy. Although the ideas are broadly supported, packaging it as the Democrats’ proposal apparently brings out the partisan divide. Could this discrepancy in support create an opportunity to negotiate? Why not try to negotiate the sticking points with someone seen by a majority of Americans as willing to make good-faith efforts in working with opponents?

Could it be the T-word — taxes — that keeps Republicans away? On Thursday, April 1, Sen. McConnell vowed to fight the bill “every step of the way” because of its “whopping tax increase.” Here, Sen. McConnell was speaking about increasing the corporate tax rate by 7%, to the 28% rate that existed prior to the Trump administration. According to polls, most Americans do not see this as a “whopping” tax increase. According to the Reuters/Ipsos poll, 64% of U.S adults support a tax hike on corporations and large businesses. Furthermore, another poll found that Biden’s infrastructure bill is more popular with the tax hikes than without them.

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, citing a March 31 Morning Consult/Politico poll, noted that “57% of voters say they’d be more likely to support Biden’s infrastructure plan if it were funded by tax increases on those making over $400,000. Additionally, 47% of the voters say they’d be more likely to support the infrastructure proposal if it were funded by an increase to the corporate tax rate. Only 27% support infrastructure without tax hikes, which appears to be the GOP’s stance.”

In addition to these positive polls, there are now Republican mayors excited about millions of infrastructure dollars flowing into their communities. For example, in Mesa, Arizona, Republican Mayor John Giles is excited to be able to upgrade a 1970s-era airport tower, widen roads, extend broadband and expand a light rail network. Mr. Giles went further to say he was disappointed by the Republican opposition in Congress. “It was only a few months ago that we all agreed that infrastructure was a bipartisan issue,” Mr. Giles said. “That attitude shouldn’t shift just because there’s a new administration in the White House.”

When I see these polls and stories about local leaders welcoming the push on infrastructure, I’m convinced that the more the public understands Biden’s infrastructure package, the more popular it will become. If no Republicans work to modify and support the bill, it will be the second time in a matter of months that the Republican Party will be running against the tide of public opinion.

Although I’ve not served in high office, I have served twice at the local level. I know that as an elected official the tide of public opinion eventually catches up with those who consistently buck it. Why risk playing with public opinion fire? Why declare at the outset that there will be no Republican votes? Why throw “infrastructure” under the partisan bus?

America is better off with a Republican Party that stands for more than obstructionism, voter suppression and tax breaks for the rich. Negotiate for what used to be a core issue for the Republican Party — infrastructure.

Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has more than 22 years’ experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.

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