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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: A less toxic path

by John Brummett | April 8, 2021 at 2:59 a.m.

I had a dream that the U.S. Congress would begin separating issues into narrowly focused bills to stand on their own individual merit.

By that, I meant reforming the raging practice of consolidating issues into vast tomes so that the party in control can take a shot at passing less-popular measures by leveraging popular ones.

It's partly about pushing what parties believe to be right. And it's partly about attending to political convenience by obliging disparate elements of the partisan bases.

I had a dream that Democrats under the professed unity theme of President Biden--not yet evident in practice--would take the initiative of this reform and better fortify themselves for the midterms. I thought they could do that by neutralizing deep partisan resentment through the passage of narrower measures of wide agreement and reap the alliance of the few reasonable Republicans left--the Romney-Collins-Murkowski types.

That might take some of the starch out of the demonizing that works so well for both parties on the perpetual motion and money machine that is the seesaw of power.

I dreamed this dream for the cause of better government. But, I'll admit, I dreamed it also to improve the political climate for the purpose of lessening the existential threat of the horrid Donald Trump's return to power.

The monster might come back only by exploiting resentment. Democrats ought to try to give him less to work with.

Now comes the infrastructure bill to destroy all my fancy dreams.

Traditional infrastructure, by which I mean roads and bridges and rail and airports, is wildly popular and universally wise. Such improvement projects enhance quality of life, make us safer, employ people and hyper- activate the economy.

A basic traditional infrastructure bill would seem to stand a chance of getting even more than 10 Republican votes in the Senate, blowing through a filibuster. The main hang-up would be paying for it. But surely a few reasonable Republican senators could be persuaded to accept a corporate tax-rate rise to, say, 25 percent, less than the 28 percent proposed by Democrats and still considerably less than the rate when the Republican tax cuts of 2017 were enacted.

It's a small price to pay to correct decades of neglect and keep America's once-great infrastructure from fully crumbling. And infrastructure improvement generates corporate profits and personal incomes, thus tax receipts.

But, alas, Senate Democrats have made traditional infrastructure only a part of a broader $2.2 trillion bill that includes charging stations for electric cars, greening initiatives in government fleets and structures, and a heavy outlay to encourage home care for the elderly as baby boomers pass through the stages of steady decline of dementia even as their physical well-being remains all right through the vast improvements in public health during their blessed lifetimes.

So, Republicans en masse oppose the bill on the arguable grounds--and the politically marketable grounds--that it's too big, that the corporate tax increase is oppressive and that electric car plug-ins and taking care of the elderly have nothing to do with what Americans mean when they talk about infrastructure.

Comically--because they'll always offer unintended comedy--Republicans also argue that including money in the bill for upgrading water-system piping is not infrastructure.

Presumably they consider water faucets and toilet-flushing extras.

In turn, Senate Democrats have decided to use budget reconciliation again, as on covid relief, so that they can pass what they want--all that they want--with their 50 votes plus Kamala Harris in the Senate. The parliamentarian has ruled that they may do so under the rules.

They have a Joe Manchin problem in holding their 50, but that's fixable and another column.

Republicans can hone their midterm message that they were prepared to take Biden at his word on bipartisanship and to back a traditional infrastructure bill ... until, that is, Biden used that bill to impose Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal socialism and spend money on care for the elderly that might be worthwhile but has no business being disguised as infrastructure.

I would advise them not to trivialize water pipes. But that's their call.

I'm not arguing policy merit, on which Democrats are absolutely right. Infrastructure evolves as the people evolve. Greening the public sector and facilitation conversion to electric cars attend appropriately to the future and to the well-being of the planet. Health care is an essential element of infrastructure and stands to be stressed by baby-boom aging.

I'm arguing only politics. I'm saying break it all out into three bills. Pass the one for traditional infrastructure with some Republicans. Take your best shot on another bill on emerging infrastructure. Let the Republicans neglect old people if that's what they want on a third bill.

De-toxify the political climate to the extent you possibly can, because Trump is a toxic figure existing only with the sustenance of resentment and hate.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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