Now that the stimulus bill has been passed, it’s time for the Biden administration to consider what its next big proposal should be.

It’s going to be a delicate balancing act for them: Although progressives were willing to go along with the Senate version of the stimulus bill, they weren’t happy about it. While President Biden got nearly everything he wanted out of the stimulus package, liberals’ ambitions were curtailed by fellow Democrats. That’s what will make it interesting to see what the administration does next: Liberal Democrats may have their grandiose plans, but they’re not necessarily completely shared by the administration, and they’re unlikely to go anywhere in a closely divided Senate.

If Biden tries to take a major liberal proposal – like HR 1, House Democrats’ voting-rights bill, or the Green New Deal – and tweak it just enough to get through the Senate, it won’t be quite as easy as it was with the stimulus. Unlike with the stimulus package, they’d need to get bipartisan support for these proposals – and that means 10 Republican senators to overcome a filibuster, not just one or two. In order to get a bill addressing climate change or voting rights through the Senate without eliminating the filibuster, it would end up looking virtually nothing like HR 1 or the Green New Deal, possibly costing the support of progressives.

If they wished, Democrats could simply eliminate the filibuster for legislation altogether, allowing them to pass whatever they like, but Biden has said he doesn’t support that, as have a number of moderate Democratic senators. They could change their tune at any point, but it seems unlikely that any of them will do an immediate about-face. If they did, it would not only be a stunning reversal, but it would so poison the well with Republicans that bipartisanship – currently on life support – may well be dead for the rest of Biden’s administration.

Instead of forcing through liberal legislation, Biden could work with Republicans to reach a compromise on a controversial topic, but that hasn’t been particularly fruitful as of late. Ideologues on both sides have made many issues virtually impossible to compromise on in Washington, D.C., but there’s one major policy area that hasn’t yet become a completely partisan battleground: transportation and infrastructure.

Report after report has shown that America’s infrastructure, from roads and bridges to water and sewer, is crumbling and needs more fiscal support. There’s broad agreement over this on both sides of the aisle, too: Donald Trump talked so much about increasing infrastructure spending that “Infrastructure Week” became a punchline. Now, with a new administration and new congressional leadership, it would be a good time to finally have Infrastructure Week really arrive.

There will be hurdles, to be sure: Republicans would be just as unlikely to vote for Biden’s multitrillion-dollar infrastructure wishlist without changes as they were to vote for the stimulus package, but there’s room for compromise here. A major advantage of spending money on infrastructure is that, like military spending, it’s widely distributed all over the country in readily recognizable projects. Politicians and the public alike love infrastructure projects: They can attend ribbon-cuttings, it gets them in the news and lots of these things need to be named after someone.

While Republicans won’t be willing to embrace a radical climate change plan, they may be willing to support funding for green initiatives in an infrastructure bill. These will probably be relatively modest, like tax credits for electric vehicles or funding for charging stations, rather than the grand sweeping proposals in the Green New Deal, but it’s achievable progress to increase the use of clean energy.

Any major infrastructure bill should include not only roads, but also expanding broadband access, both for rural areas and low-income households. Bridging the digital divide isn’t an ideological issue. It should be clear to everyone – especially since the pandemic – that it’s a vitally important one. Expanding broadband should be a top priority for both parties, and the whole country.

Simply throwing money at our infrastructure woes isn’t a viable solution, though. As infrastructure policy is debated, we need to consider not only where the money comes from, but also where it goes. Our economy has been remade by both technology and the pandemic, and any infrastructure spending needs to reflect that. We need new solutions for this century’s problems, not just more money.

Hopefully that’s an area where the two parties can find some common ground.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: jimfossel

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