Fairly early on in the Trump administration, I argued that if Trump wanted to pass an infrastructure bill, he should let the Democrats write it. Obviously, he did not follow my advice and it’s a little late to ask Schumer and Pelosi to do it for him now. But that doesn’t mean that the Democrats should sit on their hands. I completely agree with what Rep. Ro Khanna of California says here:
“Why doesn’t the House just pass a $2 trillion infrastructure bill with our pay-fors and then put the ball in the Senate and Trump’s court?” asked Rep. Ro Khanna, a San Francisco Bay–area Democrat and a leading progressive in Congress.
“I think we have to pass something that’s really going to convince people the problem isn’t politicians. The problem isn’t broken Washington. The problem is this president and the Senate,” Khanna added. “If we don’t do that, if it’s just rhetorical, then I feel that [voters] are just going to increase the cynicism and most people will blame the entire Congress.”
The House can do an infrastructure bill correctly if they prioritize the issue. The Transportation Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Pete DeFazio of Oregon, should hold extensive hearings and do a thorough markup of an infrastructure bill based on what they learn. We need to upgrade our airports, improve our rail system, assure the safety of our bridges, do a ton of road repair and road expansion, and make investments in more clean energy solutions for moving people and goods around the country and the world. The House Republicans should be encouraged to participate and it’s completely acceptable to do a little horse-trading in exchange for some of their votes.
The idea wouldn’t be to pass something that the Senate Republicans would take up themselves. The bill would almost certainly be a dead end. But the effort would be useful anyway. It would prepare the next Congress (and hopefully the next president) to hit the ground running. It would help the Democrats iron out how they want to pay for the bill. And it would do exactly what Rep. Khanna suggested, which is show the voters that the reason they can’t have the best infrastructure in the world is not due to generalized Congressional dysfunction but is instead entirely the fault of the Republican Party.
Trump has already told Schumer and Pelosi that he wants to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure. Why not hand him a good bill and see how he reacts? He might respond by asking Mitch McConnell to pass it in the Senate. That wouldn’t get McConnell to move on it, but it would cause divisions and infighting, which is a political benefit for the Democrats. But it shouldn’t be primarily about the politics. People need to understand what the parties stand for and which party is responsible for inaction on national priorities, but the party also needs to do the hard work of writing a good piece of legislation. It’s better to do it now than to wait until the chance comes to actually enact the law.
It could also work for the eleventy billion Democrats who are running for president. They could weigh in on the House’s efforts and offer their competing ideas, which would highlight the importance of the issue for the party and create a nice contrast with the do-nothing GOP.
The best part is that the House Democrats can claim that they’re trying to help Trump keep his campaign promises, which would technically be true. After all, without a bill to sign, he has no hope of keeping his infrastructure promises, and the Republican-controlled Senate isn’t going to write one.
In this case, every argument seems to line up and it seems like a no-brainer for the House Democrats to take up an infrastructure bill this year.