President Biden has had Senators from both Parties over to the White House to try to find common ground on his infrastructure package. There have been positive Republican comments about the effort, but clearly they want a much smaller investment and one focused on concrete and asphalt, that ignores how far behind we are. This old thinking is out of touch with modern needs. There is Republican support for broadband expansion, something desperately needed, but only as part of a much much smaller package. Then there is Senate Minority Leader McConnell, who in the end will likely want no Republican support for any package that the President wants.
Trying to put this in context with history, I share three historical examples, leaving you to see where we might be tomorrow without major investments being made now. If President Eisenhower had thought like Republicans of today, his highway infrastructure package might have been the creation of passing lanes, fixing potholes and, of course, no interstate highways. If President Truman had not successfully sold the Marshall Plan, playing a major role in rebuilding Europe following WWll, how much bigger and more powerful would Russia be today? And if President Kennedy had not pushed the space program, think of all the technology advances we would have at least delayed for decades.
I am obviously not suggesting that the minority Republicans in the Senate should just accept the fact they are the minority caucus, admittedly by a thread, and roll over waiting for their return to the majority. What I am suggesting is that they consider voting somewhat along the line of what Republicans back home want. National polls now show strong support from Republicans for Biden’s Infrastructure plan to help the economy and build it back better. There are 50 Republican Senators and, at the moment, not one supports the package-all because of McConnell, their crazy tie to Trump, and their loyalty to the richest Americans.
I know from my own experience how important bipartisan support is for leading significant change as well as creating new directions that benefit the state’s overall interests and serve individual and family needs. Success for Kansas came in the 80’s from having both Democratic and Republican support for proper funding of public education, approving a major state infrastructure package, reforming the state banking system, creating a state water plan, implementing the first state effort on business development and job creation with a new Department of Economic Development (now called Commerce), and giving the citizens the opportunity to vote on several key constitutional changes that passed overwhelmingly.
So how did we lose our willingness to put the state and country first? I suppose when wedge issues became such a key to Republican strategy things changed. Abortion, gun control, and immigration today tend to dictate Republican strategy, not because they should lead the agenda, but because they divide people and lead to Republican political success.
As a wild example of how far Republicans in Kansas have changed, when the Equal Rights Amendment was sent to the states for approval in the early 70’s, I was there in the legislature. Kansas was a very early adopter and approved the amendment—yes, led by Republican leadership. That simply would not happen today.
So what needs to happen to have hope for common sense to return and take the first significant steps towards addressing the challenges we face? My only thought that makes any sense and could possibly happen is for Biden’s package to get passed by whatever means possible, that the public reaction is quite positive, that the Democrats hold both Houses in the 2022 election, and Biden is reelected in 2024. That might get the attention of Republican leaders. For, as long as wedge issues prevail for the Republicans, I see little chance in the near future of any real progress being made on climate change, infrastructure, and the other endless challenges we face. I know this reads partisan but, for me, without Biden succeeding, these key changes and investments will not be made, and the price we pay will set us back dramatically for decades.