This editorial was originally published Sunday in The Dallas Morning News.
Americans have broadly agreed for years that the nation’s transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of attention. Across party lines, people want the U.S. to once again be a country with modern and excellent roads, bridges, airports and rail lines.
And Americans want something else — a functional political environment that can deliver these priorities in a way that is fiscally sound and that uses America’s credit to fund long-term investments that will pay off for generations and cost less to build in today’s dollars than they would in tomorrow’s.
That’s what we got in Washington last week. Well, almost. President Joe Biden announced an all too rare bipartisan agreement on a $1 trillion infrastructure package that was hammered out by five Republicans and five Democrats. If the president signs it, it would not only represent important progress for the restoration of our infrastructure, but it also could signal a turning point in our politics.
We were heartened by the president’s words during his announcement of the deal.
“Neither side got everything they wanted in this deal, and that’s what it means to compromise. And it reflects something important: It reflects consensus. The heart of democracy requires consensus,” Biden said, according to The New York Times.
Most of us who don’t work in politics also recognize that as life, or what the kids sometimes call “adulting.”
Unfortunately, what the president gave in one moment, he appeared to take away in the next.
“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” he said.
Biden promised that he wouldn’t sign the infrastructure bill unless a far more divisive part of his economic agenda was passed in tandem.
Then, Saturday, the president gave us another twist, saying he would stay true to the promise to support the infrastructure deal.
We aren’t sure what to think now. What we know is that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party won’t be happy with just an infrastructure deal. And the president wants to deliver those progressives the second part of his plan.
That plan would advance any number of progressive causes at a cost of trillions while substantially raising taxes. It’s far from certain that Democrats can get the legislation through Congress and onto Biden’s desk for a signature. So why tie up a good deal that is constructive in so many ways with one that raises far more political problems? And why confuse the matter further by backtracking?
The answer is probably something we should get accustomed to in this administration. The president has a habit of trying to please moderates of both parties while also trying to satisfy the progressive wing of his party. At some point, that won’t wash. We just hope it doesn’t wash out this deal.