Nearly two years after Congress finalized the first in a series of measures to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure and combat climate change, some of the GOP lawmakers who originally tried to scuttle the spending are now welcoming it. They have privately courted newly available federal money to improve their local roads, bridges, pipes, ports and internet connections, and publicly celebrated when their cities and states have secured a portion of the aid.
The dynamic has created some uncomfortable contrasts, since those same GOP lawmakers still maintain that President Biden’s legislative agenda has served as a drag on the nation’s economy, worsening inflation. The White House, meanwhile, has seized on Republicans’ shifting tone as part of its new campaign to promote “Bidenomics,” which took Biden and his top advisers to Michigan, Ohio and other 2024 election battlegrounds over the past week to tout their work.
Appearing Thursday in South Carolina, the president ratcheted up the attack: He specifically called attention to Tuberville and other Republicans who are now “claiming credit” for the new jobs and other economic gains that their original votes might have denied.
“All those members of Congress who voted against it suddenly realize how great it is, and they’re bragging about it,” Biden said.
Steven Stafford, a spokesman for Tuberville, said in a statement that the senator “wasn’t praising the legislation” but rather hoped to advocate “for existing funding to go to Alabama.”
“Does the White House believe that only states with Democrat representation in Congress should receive federal tax dollars? I sure hope not,” he said.
The renewed political sniping underscores the intensifying work in Washington to implement Biden’s sprawling agenda, which spans four major laws and more than $3 trillion in new spending, tax credits and other programs.
In spring 2021, Democrats secured a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package, before pairing with Republicans later in the fall to finalize a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law. The following year, lawmakers approved $52 billion to boost the manufacturing of small yet powerful computer chips, part of a larger campaign to bolster U.S. science and technology against China.
And Democratic votes alone clinched the final measure, called the Inflation Reduction Act, in summer 2022. That provisioned roughly $400 billion in new tax credits and other policies to reduce carbon emissions while empowering the government to help lower seniors’ health-care costs.
The last two weeks, in particular, have brought a flood of announcements teeing up billions in new federal aid — including grants to purchase clean buses, tax benefits to expand green energy projects and funding competitions for large companies that make semiconductors domestically. By the administration’s count, it has awarded $225 billion under just the infrastructure law, translating into about 35,000 projects now underway nationally.
At times, Republicans have faulted some of that spending as wasteful — and they have sought, aggressively and occasionally unsuccessfully, to repeal Biden’s signature legislative accomplishments. But a growing roster of voices in the GOP also has been willing to abandon their fierce opposition whenever the federal money starts flowing in their direction.
A small but potent House Republican uprising this spring blocked the GOP from trying to repeal tax credits for clean energy, a central element of the Inflation Reduction Act. Rep. Ashley Hinson and other Republican lawmakers from Iowa — a state that benefits heavily from federal incentives for biofuels — mobilized to spare those programs from an early Republican measure that would have slashed federal spending and raised the debt ceiling.
The deal between Midwestern Republicans and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) enraged some far-right lawmakers, who felt the party had surrendered on a critical campaign promise. It also marked an about-face for lawmakers including Hinson, who last August blasted the Inflation Reduction Act for “wasting hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on Green New Deal priorities, and raising taxes on middle class families.”
The congresswoman’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some of the sharpest critics of the infrastructure law, meanwhile, rejoiced when the Transportation Department unveiled the recipients of roughly $2.2 billion to help rehabilitate roads and bridges in late June. The beneficiaries included two highway improvement projects in Arkansas, which received about $50 million, drawing public praise from Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton.
“I’m pleased Senator Boozman and I were able to secure the grants for these projects,” Cotton said in a joint statement last month.
Two years earlier, though, the duo had joined 28 other Senate Republicans in voting against the infrastructure law — which allowed the government to spend up to $1.2 trillion. Explaining his stance at the time, Cotton said Arkansans “do not want President Biden’s ‘social infrastructure’ and climate alarmism, especially under the threat of increased inflation and higher taxes.”
Boozman and Cotton did later support December 2022 legislation that actually supplied the money to carry out the infrastructure law, including its so-called RAISE grants that came to benefit their state. The two senators’ offices declined to comment.
Another previous opponent of the law, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) similarly heralded the roughly $28 million in “good news” sent to the cities of Laurel and Meridian for road improvements last month. Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, a top appropriator, delighted in the receipt of $1.6 million to replace a bridge in Courtland, Ala., noting in a release he is “always happy to support this type of funding in Congress” — even though he voted against the infrastructure law that expanded the RAISE program.
And Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the chairman of the House’s powerful Transportation Committee, said he was “proud” to share the news that the city of Maryville would receive $1.3 million to repair its portion of a local highway, adding in a Facebook post: “Congratulations to all who helped secure this funding!”
Spokespeople for Hyde-Smith, Aderholt and Graves did not respond to requests for comment.
With the deluge of funding now starting to reach cities and states nationwide, Biden and his aides hit the road this past week to promote their work. For the White House, the tour reflected a lingering source of angst: Some polls conducted in recent months show Americans are unfamiliar with the legislation that the president shepherded through Congress. In the meantime, Biden’s own approval ratings have sagged.
In West Columbia, S.C., the president on Thursday swiped at Republicans who voted against the infrastructure law, while highlighting that the state has already received $2.6 billion in new federal aid — money to expand regional airports, prevent flooding and upgrade transit.
“Our plan is working,” Biden proclaimed.
Earlier in the week, Michael Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, peered into a newly dug hole in the front yard of a Grand Rapids., Mich., home, as he called attention to a roughly $15 billion federal effort to replace old lead water pipes. A day later, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Albany, N.Y., to showcase the administration’s work on wind energy. And the president’s chief infrastructure coordinator, Mitch Daniels, toured New Mexico on Friday to highlight the administration’s efforts to promote broadband connectivity, including its recent $42 billion in new investments.
The money aims to deliver speedy internet to a roughly 8 million homes, businesses and other locations that still lack sufficient service by 2030, though Biden would not actually be in office by then even if he won the next election. In late June, the administration divvied up the funding, setting in motion a roughly two-year process for states to decide how to spend the money with federal supervision.
Lawmakers from both parties quickly heralded the aid: In Texas, for example, Sen. John Cornyn (R) shared an update about how his state had received the largest federal grant, exceeding $3.3 billion, only to later face a barrage of criticism for having voted against the bill authorizing the funding in the first place.
“You bet I did,” Cornyn later tweeted in a defense of his stance, citing the fact that he believed the legislation added to the debt and worsened inflation. “Broadband is important, but you don’t solve one problem by creating two more.”
In Alabama, meanwhile, Tuberville extolled broadband as “vital” for growing the local economy, even as he renewed his attacks on Biden for pursuing trillions of dollars in new spending that had caused “record high inflation.” His spokesman, Stafford, later stressed there is “no contradiction” between voting against the law and supporting its individual provisions once they take effect.
But the senator’s stance prompted Biden to fire back at Tuberville in his own tweet last week, as he ramped up his effort to champion new federal funding on the horizon.
“See you at the groundbreaking,” the president said.
POST AUTHOR: Tony Romm