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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Stephanie Grace: Every Louisiana district would benefit from infrastructure bill. But will GOP members support it? | Columnist Stephanie Grace

In size and ambition, the $1.2 trillion dollar infrastructure bill that made it through the U.S. Senate last week is dwarfed by a separate $3.5 trillion proposal to vastly expand the country’s safety net, which is moving through a different process that would allow it to pass with only Democratic votes.

That shouldn’t distract from the fact that, on its own, the infrastructure bill would be a game-changer for the country, by providing the biggest investment in desperate, long-neglected needs in generations. Nor should it overshadow the promising margin by which the measure passed the closely divided Senate, with the support of every Democrat plus 19 Republicans, enough to avoid the dreaded filibuster and then some.

There’s a lot in it that Democrats like, because they hold the majority in Congress and the presidency. Among the major areas of investment, for example, is renewable energy.

There’s a lot that Republicans like too, because there would be no bill without them. For one thing, the proposal doesn’t rely upon corporate tax hikes, as Democrats had originally proposed.

That doesn’t mean it didn’t still see some partisan pushback.

Among the Republicans at the negotiating table was U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, whose involvement guaranteed that Louisiana interests would be addressed and that conservative ideas would be included. Among the provisions for which he claims credit is permitting reform for Army Corps of Engineers projects, long a goal of Louisiana Republicans.

Then there was the no-way-no-how wing of the party, represented by U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, of Madisonville, who went on Fox News to declare it the very definition of “stupid stuff,” without offering anything constructive as an alternative.

What will be interesting to watch now is what happens on the House side. Because Democrats hold a narrow majority and there’s no filibuster, it could well pass on a party-line vote, even though the matter is complicated by the desire by some Democrats to link passage to the larger “soft infrastructure” bill.

Louisiana’s only House Democrat, U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, of New Orleans, is a sure yes for many reasons, including that President Joe Biden came to New Orleans to highlight aging Sewerage & Water Board facilities as just the type of problem the bill aims to solve.

But Carter’s not at all the only Louisiana member whose district would benefit; in fact, the areas represented by all of his colleagues stand to gain.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, represents a piece of New Orleans, so S&WB improvements would benefit his constituents too. For his north shore voters, there’s the prospect of widening I-12.

The district represented by U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Lafayette, includes the outdated Interstate 10 bridge in Calcasieu Parish, which Biden also spotlighted during his Louisiana visit last spring.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves represents Baton Rouge, where he’s spent years working to relieve traffic gridlock over the Mississippi River. This bill has money to do that.

The district represented by U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton, would be in line for another major road project, completion of I-49 from Shreveport to Arkansas.

And U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, R-Start, campaigned on a platform of bringing broadband to the largely rural 5th Congressional District. Money to do so is in there.

On top of all that, the bill offers funding for environmental resilience, a challenge for coastal areas most acutely but also for the whole state.

Does any of this mean these members will cast yes votes? At this point, I have no idea, but it’s worth noting that Scalise and Johnson hold leadership positions in a minority that tends to act more like Kennedy than Cassidy.

On the other hand, it used to be true that all politics is local, as onetime House Speaker Tip O’Neill said — although he led a chamber that had yet to be consumed by toxic national partisanship. If there’s any of that sentiment left in Washington, perhaps the infrastructure vote in the House will be as bipartisan as it was in the Senate.

With a vote for the bill, every member of Louisiana’s House delegation would be able to take credit for concrete, desperately needed improvements back home.

If there’s something they think is so much more important that they would vote no, I’d really like to hear what it is.

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