Hope Pocan is right and there’s room for a deal on focused legislation.
In a recent interview with the Beloit Daily News U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, spoke of his frustration with the partisan divide in Washington and its impact on the ability to get anything done.
He’s right, of course, but context matters. Right now, with the slimmest of majorities, it’s Democrats who are frustrated with Republicans for setting up roadblocks. On another day during another time, when Republicans might hold a slim majority, it would be Democrats posing opposition.
That’s how Washington works. Or, perhaps, doesn’t work.
But let’s consider the topic of infrastructure legislation as a case in point. Both parties have said for years they want to pass legislation to achieve improvements. A running joke in the Trump years involved declaring “Infrastructure Week” multiple times while nothing got done. Now, the Biden Administration has put forth a bloated soup-to-nuts bill with absolutely no chance of passage. Various negotiations have been taking place, but optimism is in short supply in part because the political parties can’t even agree on a definition for infrastructure.
Pocan said “there is some talk” about breaking the comprehensive package Biden proposed into smaller bites. Finally, something sensible. Set aside the liberal wish list and look at what may have a chance of a deal. Maybe child care, elder care, parts of the Green New Deal and so forth have some merit, but right now they’re deal-breakers. Move on.
Roads, bridges, airports, rail, ports and similar items are traditional infrastructure targets. If Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on those items the problem isn’t the topic, it’s the politicians. There ought to be a deal to be made.
That list—and maybe at the top of the list—should be expanded to include the broader digital landscape. Recent events demonstrate the immediate need for action.
Ransomware attacks shut down America’s largest fuel pipeline, then days later shut down its largest meat processor. A few months ago the power grid collapsed in Texas because it couldn’t handle cold and snow. These may be the best known failures but a little research shows this country’s alarming vulnerability to digital attack. The so-called Solar Winds hack hit the Pentagon, intelligence agencies, Microsoft, Intel and more organizations. One would have to be deliberately blind to reality not to recognize America looks like a sitting duck to its digitally-savvy adversaries.
Keep this in mind: Nothing works anymore when the computers are down, from the grocery store to airliners to the nuclear arsenal. That should scare everybody in the country when it’s so obvious bad actors are aggressively probing America’s networks for vulnerabilities.
Breaking down the infrastructure debate to matters that make sense to most people sets priorities over politics. There are plenty of studies already done demonstrating the crumbling nature of highways and bridges. America’s airports and railroads look old and worn compared to today’s international standards for developed nations. Meanwhile, an argument can be made the country’s digital architecture already is engaged in a new Cold War.
Extremists on both sides are hurtling toward the usual outcome, which is accomplishing precisely nothing. That might provide talking points for partisan warriors in midterm elections, but it fails the American people and increases vulnerabilities.
We urge those who represent this region and the states of Wisconsin and Illinois to talk less and do more. Break the bloated bill into pieces that can attract support from those in Congress willing to put results above politics. This is the kind of legislation that not only matters to people, but can address a growing national security threat. Get it done.
A FINAL WORD: Pay for what America spends on worthy projects. Whether that means budget cuts elsewhere, user fees or targeted taxes shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. The coward’s way out always is to put spending on the national credit card which, by the way, has been maxed out by both parties. Americans ought to be willing to pay for things like roads, bridges and digital security. If doing so puts a politician’s seat at risk, well, that’s a seat not worth occupying.