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By this summer, President Joe Biden knew he was using the tagline for his trillion-dollar infrastructure bill too often. “You’re tired of hearing me saying it, I know,” he said during remarks about the bill in August, “but this is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America.”
Months later, despite bipartisan passage by a 69 to 30 vote in the Senate, those plans remained stuck on the drawing board until very recently. The White House and both parties in Congress, after acting in strange concert to delay progress, finally got the bill passed late on Nov. 5 amid extreme legislative and political chaos, exposing just how far down the list of priorities the blueprint — and the blue-collar workers it will benefit — had actually fallen.
The idea behind the blue-collar blueprint is exactly right. America’s infrastructure is a mess, from crumbling roads and bridges to backlogged ports and outdated airports. Millions of Americans still get drinking water through lead pipes. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives American infrastructure a C-. Of the 17 categories of infrastructure they examine, 11 are in the D range, including roads, transit, dams and aviation.
Addressing these failures is not only a vital investment in the nation’s economic future, but also a unique opportunity to provide good blue-collar jobs to millions of Americans who have long struggled in a job market that favors college-educated “knowledge workers.” This insight is neither new nor controversial in either party. The Trump administration tried so frequently to focus on infrastructure that announcements of an impending “infrastructure week” became a running joke.
So why, given this widespread support for rebuilding an infrastructure worthy of our national pride and for employing working Americans to do it, was it so immensely difficult to pass the infrastructure bill? Why are congressional Democrats, even having at long last passed the bill, still warring among themselves so fiercely as to threaten the rest of their own agenda and political future? Why did almost all House Republicans refuse to follow their Senate colleagues’ example, and help improve and then pass a bill rather than obstruct it? It is because neither institutional party is truly as attentive to working-class needs and beliefs as they want you to believe.