The relatively smooth move toward passage of the $1 trillion-plus infrastructure bill this week was, generally speaking, a positive step. Now, if you’re a regular reader of this column, you might be surprised to hear me deign to admit this: I’m a fiscal hawk of longtime standing, more so than most of the diehard conservatives you’ll ever meet in your life. Indeed, fiscal responsibility is one of the major issues that has kept me a Republican throughout my adult life, even when I’ve disagreed with most other Republicans about other high-profile issues and haven’t been able to support some Republican candidates.

To be clear, I’m not suddenly a fan of big spending; if I were voting on the legislation, I’d probably have to oppose it on that basis alone. The United States needs to rein in its deficit spending – it has needed to do so for decades. Sadly, both parties have refused to do so, and even among Republicans the number of true deficit hawks left in either chamber (just like the number of moderate Democrats) has rapidly dwindled to the point of near-extinction as of late.

So, it wasn’t necessarily the legislation itself that was such a net positive: If you wanted to oppose it, it was easy enough to find reasons to do so, whether it was some specific provision or simply the idea of more spending that turned your stomach. It would be nice to think that most of the Republicans who voted against the bill were actually concerned about spending, but in reality, if Donald Trump were still president, they’d probably happily have voted for literally the exact same bill. On the flip side, if Trump were still president, most Democrats would have found some reason to vote against it – principles are the most endangered species in Washington, D.C., these days.

No, the swift passage of the infrastructure bill isn’t a good thing because of what’s in the bill – although there are good things and bad things. One of the good things in the legislation is a step toward a mileage tax and away from a fuel tax. We’re going to need to work out the kinks on the idea, but as more electric vehicles come on to America’s roadways, it’s vital that they pay their fair share – and this is a good way to do it.

One of the bad things is that the legislation, for some reason, imposes additional restrictions on cryptocurrencies. There’s no reason to include that in an infrastructure bill at all; that issue should be considered entirely separately on its own and dumped from the legislation entirely. Still, the bipartisan agreement on the amendment is an improvement over the administration’s initial stance, albeit marginally.

The passage of the infrastructure bill shows that America is still governable and that bipartisanship is possible. Now, this particular piece of legislation shouldn’t have been a huge lift: Infrastructure is always a popular place to spend money, and both major parties are always happy to spend money. It’s not inherently controversial like social spending or cultural policies. Even with the increase to the federal deficit, it’s not going to ignite a lot of talking heads on cable news. That’s more a reflection of misplaced priorities than responsible governance, but it’s the reality of today’s political landscape.

The infrastructure bill shows not only that bipartisanship and real governance are still possible, but also that the Republican Party isn’t yet solely a personality cult to Donald Trump. The former president recently launched a broadside against Republicans for voting for the transportation bill. This is an interesting approach for him to take, since when he was president, Trump repeatedly lambasted Democrats for refusing to deal with him on infrastructure. Essentially, Trump supported bipartisanship and massive deficit spending on transportation before he was against it. In the Senate, at least, the collective reaction to his attacks was a shrug: Even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted in favor of advancing the bill.

The Kentucky Republican, strategist that he is, was looking at the long game. Despite his big talk, he knows that opposing President Biden on everything not only is bad politics, but also would threaten the preservation of the filibuster. He understands that, in the long run, that would be bad for democracy; Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer do, too. (House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy probably doesn’t.) McConnell’s approach to this legislation is a wise one in the long run, even if it incurs the very temporary wrath of a certain former president.

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

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