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Partisanship puts up roadblock to progress

by CHUCK MALLOY
| June 11, 2021 7:34 AM

During his heyday as governor, Cecil Andrus — a Democrat — had an uncanny way of appealing to even the most partisan of Republicans.

He’d talk about things that all Idahoans could agree with — such as quality schools, good roads and safe communities. And while Andrus constantly would get his share of pushback from Republicans in the political arena, Idaho voters solidly supported his agenda.

Arguably, Andrus was the most popular and accomplished governor in the Gem State’s history, and it’s no secret why. He was a master politician and nobody played the game better.

President Biden could learn a lot from old Cece. Instead of the president getting something done, as Andrus did, there seems to be gridlock as usual in the nation’s capital.

Biden talked a good game about unifying the country after four stormy years of Donald Trump and working with Republicans. He has not had much to do with the GOP, beyond inviting Sen. Mike Crapo and a group of Republican senators to the White House to discuss his infrastructure plan. We’ll see if the meeting amounted to anything more than a photo-op.

As Crapo described, with some political grace, “I am encouraged by the productive meeting I had with President Biden and some of my Republican Senate colleagues about the need to modernize and expand our transportation system and broadband network in a bipartisan manner.”

If the president had stuck to that framework, he would have hit a home run with Republicans. Crapo, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, is all for improving roads and bridges, transit, rail, airports, drinking water and waste-water infrastructure, port and inland waterways, water storage and broadband infrastructure.

Those things would cost in the range of $570 billion and the president could have that bill in his hands within weeks. Crapo might even be willing to co-sponsor a bill with that price tag. He might well go along with the GOP’s counter plan, which calls for spending $1 trillion for traditional infrastructure projects — which is a giant leap forward for Republicans.

“There is bipartisan support for finding long-term funding and financing solutions for transportation infrastructure, as well as increasing access to broadband connections, particularly in rural America,” Crapo told his committee colleagues. “Let’s get to work in a bipartisan way to maintain, modernize and expand America’s infrastructure.”

Hear! Hear!

But, no. Democrats want more. They want to spend at least $1.7 trillion (down from $2.3 trillion), with much of the money going for things that have nothing to do with roads, bridges and traditional infrastructure. And they want to pay for it by taxing the longtime enemy of Democrats — the rich people.

As Crapo told the committee, “Consideration of offsetting the cost of infrastructure with a corporate tax rate increase or increases in international taxes, especially coming out of the largest negative shock to the economy on record, is counterproductive and a non-starter on my side of the aisle.”

The senator says there are other options for funding infrastructure needs. “There is no silver bullet for how to pay for transportation infrastructure, but historically it has been paid for by user fees, which makes sense.”

Apparently, that’s a non-starter for the president and progressive-minded Democrats. So, that leaves us in a political stalemate, with a good chance of coming out with nothing. Unless, of course, Democrats find a way to ram through their agenda through reconciliation — which would leave Republicans out of the picture. Those power plays tend to catch up with majority parties in mid-term elections.

If Biden were to look more at the big picture — as the late Cecil Andrus did during his time as governor — the president could walk away as a hero and the nation could start the work on repairing a crumbling infrastructure. Who knows what could happen from there? Bipartisanship could end up being a fashion statement in Washington politics, instead of the exception. If Democrats played it smart, as they rarely do, they could hold onto power well beyond the mid-term elections.

But don’t count on that happening. Unfortunately, President Biden is showing that he is no Cecil Andrus.

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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.