Accord between Democrats and Republicans on a major infrastructure bill isn’t only a positive for those who say the nation’s roads and airports need a major injection of funds.
Sen. Mitt Romney says it signals a step forward in Washington in smoothing relations between Democrats and Republicans, which had become strained under the leadership of former President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, said Thursday that he backs the infrastructure compromise crafted by Romney and a coalition of other Democratic and Republican senators.
“With the president’s support of this bipartisan program, it signals that Washington can work, the Senate can work, America can work. Our institutions are able to deal with major challenges that we have,” Romney said during a conference call with Utah media on Thursday, after Biden endorsed the $579 billion plan.
Romney was part of a coalition of eight senators, a mix of Democrats and Republicans, that pulled the plan together, and in addressing the proposal on Thursday, he returned repeatedly to the theme of bipartisanship. Romney has carved out a singular place within the Republican Party, espousing GOP principles but, during Trump’s presidency, not shying from criticizing the GOP leader. He signaled in his remarks Thursday that Biden operates in a different way than Trump.
He’s not sure why Biden may have been open to compromise with Republicans on the infrastructure plan, which still must pass muster in the Senate and House. “But I can say that I believe that he recognizes that it’s important that we work on a bipartisan basis. And he recognizes the significance of communicating in our country and, frankly, around the world that America works and the Senate can get the job done, that Republicans and Democrats can work together,” Romney said.
To be sure, the proposal still needs to get support in the full House and full Senate. And Romney left open the possibility of delays in passing the plan if Democratic lawmakers first try to pursue funding for other “human infrastructure” initiatives they favor, like child care and education. But he maintains that despite the image of Washington as a place where Democrats and Republicans are constantly bickering, lawmakers from the two parties get along. Significantly, he also sounded a full-throated defense of bipartisanship.
“When you hear about a piece of legislation that only one party has drafted and only one party is proposing, it will not become law. We call those messaging bills. You go home and say how we’re fighting for this, but everybody knows it’ll never happen,” Romney said. “So if you want something to actually happen, you have to work on a bipartisan basis, and that’s what our group does.”
The eight lawmakers who helped pull the plan together are part of a larger coalition of 21 Democratic and Republican senators who range from conservative to liberal, Romney said.
As for particulars, the infrastructure plan calls for $312 billion in spending in transportation infrastructure, including roads, public transit, rail, electric buses, airports and more. It also calls for another $266 billion in spending on other infrastructure initiatives, to upgrade the power grid, augment broadband accessibility, environmental remediation and more. The $579 billion, which Romney says won’t require a tax hike, would be spent over five years and come on top of baseline infrastructure spending of some $394 billion in the period.
What exactly Utah or any other state will get hasn’t been pinpointed. Existing formulas for infrastructure spending that he says give Utah “its fair share” will be used to determine how it’s divvied. He singled out funding to be made available for airports, water infrastructure and the power grid. Rocky Mountain Power has said it plans to increase the share of energy it generates from renewable sources, indicating the need for “dramatic change” in how power is distributed “and this funding allows that to happen.”
Some $47 billion of the $579 billion is to be used to help in dealing with things like forest fires and flooding, making the country “more resilient to the changing climate,” Romney said.
No new taxes will be needed for the plan. Funding instead will come from a mix of sources, including $120 billion in leftover funding from the federal COVID-19 relief measures approved in January and last year. Perhaps $80 billion more will come from efforts to recoup unemployment funding provided to recipients on fraudulent grounds.
The bipartisanship doesn’t end with the infrastructure measure. Romney said he’s working with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, on a measure to raise the minimum wage. “The interesting thing is, if you work on a bipartisan basis there’s the prospect of actually getting something to become law,” he said.