Editorial: Portman builds an infrastructure deal

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman deserves credit for brokering a bipartisan infrastructure deal, but he has a lot more work to do to get it over the finish line.

The deal survived a test vote in the Senate last week, but that’s no guarantee it will become law.

Hammered out over the past few weeks by a bipartisan group of moderate senators, with Portman, of Cincinnati, taking the lead among Republicans, the approximately $1 trillion package would go a long way toward fixing our nation’s aging infrastructure.

It includes money for roads, bridges, airports, public transit, broadband internet, charging stations for electric vehicles, ports, water lines, electrical grid modernization and the environment.

Despite all the good the package could do, things could still go sideways.

For example, the legislation hasn’t been written yet. Further, lawmakers from both sides could try to add pet projects, additional spending or other measures that could scuttle the whole package.

There’s also the matter of how it would be paid for. Republicans, after all, are back in fiscal watchdog mode now that a Democrat is in the White House. That’s why they’re threatening not to raise the debt ceiling, a move that would be disastrous for the nation.

Portman said the deal, which includes $550 billion in new spending (the rest comes from extending current funding for highways and the like), would be fully paid for. That includes repurposed stimulus dollars, fees, delay of a new drug pricing rule and similar moves.

Not everyone is sold on the math, and Republicans nixed President Joe Biden’s proposal to raise taxes and increase spending for Internal Revenue Service enforcement, which the GOP has been happily slashing for years.

The second is perplexing because Republicans like to portray themselves not only as fiscally responsible, but also as the party of law and order. Yet they opposed more money to enforce the tax code and ensure people and companies are paying their fair share?

Then there’s the political calculation from both sides.

Democrats wanted a much bigger spending package when they entered negotiations with Portman and his fellow moderates. They gave up a lot to get to the deal, but that’s in part because they’ve settled on a second, larger bill that would fund a number of priorities not covered in the infrastructure package.

The plan is to try to pass the second bill using reconciliation, which can be done on a party-line vote. That only works if they can keep their moderates, such as U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona, in the fold. Sinema is already grumbling about the possible $3.5 trillion price tag.

Republicans, meanwhile, are loath to hand Biden any kind of win, even if infrastructure spending is politically popular and necessary.

Former President Donald Trump called the deal “a loser for the USA” and said it would be “a victory for the Biden Administration and Democrats, and will be heavily used in the 2022 elections.”

It also would be a victory for the American people, but that’s not what Trump cares about.

For good measure, Trump tossed in a threat to Republicans who might back the deal, saying that “lots of primaries will be coming your way.”

This from a president who was constantly promising that “infrastructure week” was just around the corner and, as Portman pointed out, once proposed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan.

Portman isn’t seeking reelection next year, so he’s a bit freer than many of his GOP colleagues to ignore whatever spews forth from Mar-a-Lago.

Trump’s displeasure notwithstanding, Republicans at least appear willing to consider the legislation, which is no small thing in our hyperpartisan times.

Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose entire being is devoted to fighting Biden to a standstill in a bid to help his party retake Congress, voted Wednesday to let debate begin on the deal.

Despite all the potential pitfalls, Biden was optimistic Wednesday, even before the Senate vote.

“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function,” he said. “We will once again transform America and propel us into the future.”

No pressure, Sen. Portman.

— Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, July 30