President Joe Biden speaks often of the need to demonstrate that democracies can compete with autocracies in the 21st century. The US$1.2 trillion infrastructure bill the Senate recently passed with bipartisan support seems like encouraging evidence that they can. Yet for all the back-patting over senators’ willingness to compromise, two discouraging facts about the bill stand out. The first is how many years it took for even one house of Congress to finally pass a big infrastructure measure. The second is the very real possibility that the measure will die in the other house.
In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned on a $1 trillion infrastructure pledge. During his presidency, he frequently declared “infrastructure weeks,” although these were mostly attempts to divert attention from his political problems.
Congress members of both parties have long supported the idea of a big bill – in the abstract. There was never any consensus on details, like how much money to spend, what exactly to spend it on and how to finance the spending. Nobody seemed inclined to compromise on these details. As a result, there was no big bill.