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Orlando Sentinel: We need infrastructure funding now

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Washington, August 23, 2021 | comments

Those of us who call Central Florida home know — and the census just confirmed — that our region is growing rapidly. It makes me proud that so many people want to live here. But the dramatic population increase is outpacing efforts to expand and enhance our infrastructure. As anyone who has spent hours sitting in I-4 traffic can attest, we’ve become victims of our own success.

That’s why we need to make a major federal investment in Central Florida’s — and our nation’s — infrastructure. In Congress, we’ve been talking about doing so for decades, to the point that it has become a punch line. Remarkably, we’re finally on the cusp of taking action to match the rhetoric.

This month, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill after painstaking negotiations between President Biden and Congress. All 50 Senate Democrats and 19 Senate Republicans voted yes. Beyond proving the two parties can still work together in terribly partisan times, the bill constitutes a critical first step to improve quality of life and create good-paying jobs in the Sunshine State.

The White House estimates the bill will provide at least $13 billion to improve Florida highways like I-4; $1.2 billion to upgrade airports in Orlando, Sanford, and across the state; and $245 million to fix the 200-odd state bridges that are structurally deficient. At minimum, it will allocate $2.6 billion to modernize rail and bus systems like SunRail and Lynx; $1.6 billion to help ensure every community has clean drinking water; and $100 million to extend broadband to the 700,000 Floridians who lack it.

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the bill would make historic investments to combat climate change, an existential threat to our planet, our country and the Florida way of life.

The bill enjoys support from over 70 percent of the American people.

What’s the holdup? Politics, poor legislative strategy, and the tendency of some politicians to overreach and risk snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Now that the Senate has sent the bipartisan infrastructure bill over to us in the House, I and some other Democrats want to take the normal next step, which is to pass the bill with Democratic and Republican votes, send it to President Biden for his signature, and get shovels into the ground. It would be a major win for our country and for the president, who played an indispensable role in crafting the bill.

Instead, my party’s leadership has indicated it won’t schedule a House vote on the infrastructure bill unless and until the Senate passes a separate “reconciliation” bill, a fancy term for legislation that requires only 51 — rather than the usual 60 — votes in the Senate. To pass a reconciliation bill, each chamber first needs to pass a budget resolution. The Senate, with only Democratic votes, took this step the day after it passed the infrastructure bill.

The House now has before us both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the partisan budget resolution, which we need to pass before we can write the actual reconciliation bill.

Because this is complex, let me be clear. I want to pass the infrastructure bill without delay because it’s a strong bill that will help our state. I’m also committed to working in good faith to pass a targeted, fiscally disciplined reconciliation bill that contains many of President Biden’s proposals to strengthen American families.

I would prefer a bipartisan process, but I’m not naïve. A number of the president’s proposals are in the national interest, but will never obtain the votes needed from Senate Republicans to meet the 60-vote threshold. Reconciliation is our only realistic path to accomplish key parts of the president’s agenda, like expanding access to health care, providing tax relief for working families, making child care more affordable, ensuring every child can attend preschool, and taking further steps to address climate change.

It’s a path I’m willing to take.

But I’m bewildered by my party’s misguided strategy to make passage of the popular, already-written, bipartisan infrastructure bill contingent upon passage of the contentious, yet-to-be-written, partisan reconciliation bill. It’s bad policy and, yes, bad politics.

The two legislative efforts are distinct. Blurring them is confusing to the public. Plus, the reconciliation process won’t be — and shouldn’t be — quick or easy. Democrats will need to make tough, thoughtful decisions about how much to spend given the state of the economy, how much to raise in revenue given the state of the national debt, and which priorities to include and exclude. As we work through these challenges, the infrastructure bill will sit there, stagnant. It makes no sense.

Finally, make no mistake: the current strategy is rooted in mistrust on the part of more “progressive” Democrats toward “moderate” Democrats like myself. They think we will abandon reconciliation once infrastructure becomes law, even though we’ve made clear we won’t.

In any event, if Democratic leaders believe they need to hold a good bipartisan bill hostage — and strong-arm their fellow Democrats — in order to achieve their desired policy goal, perhaps they should reconsider whether their overall approach is the right one.

This week, the House will seek a path forward. My intention is to be constructive and make principled compromises. Despite misgivings, I would vote to pass the Senate-passed budget resolution, thereby allowing the reconciliation process to proceed, but only if the House is also given an opportunity to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. I cannot in good conscience vote to start the reconciliation process unless we also finish our work on the infrastructure bill.

I don’t take this stance lightly. Standing up to your own party isn’t easy in today’s environment. But I’ve always put my country and my constituents over partisan politics. By passing the infrastructure bill and kicking off the reconciliation process, we’ll show the American people that their leaders can be pragmatic, bipartisan, and — most importantly — effective.

Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat, represents Florida’s 7th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This op-ed was first published by the Orlando Sentinel.
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