Commonsense changes to the infrastructure bill
The federal infrastructure bill recently passed in the U.S. House. It had bipartisan support in the Senate — until President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, and Senator Schumer stated they would try to pass the American Families Act using the reconciliation process, to avoid needing any Republican support. Now Senate Republicans are taking a second look at the infrastructure bill — and we should, too.
The authority for Congress and the president to support infrastructure falls under the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, which states, "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." To clarify, the Tenth Amendment states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Therefore, the infrastructure bill should be limited to concerns of commerce among the states.
The infrastructure bill includes billions for electric buses and charging stations for electric vehicles. Neither of these is interstate commerce. Nor do these two activities make "energy sense." In the past year, Americans have experienced rolling blackouts and brownouts from summer heat and winter cold. The infrastructure bill will increase electrical demand on an already overburdened electrical generating system. It's like handing out debit cards for empty bank accounts.
If the federal government's priority is to support battery-powered vehicles, it should encourage — not hinder — the development of high-capacity vehicle batteries and "base load" electrical power generation that does not contribute to greenhouse gases but also is not dependent on wind or daylight. This encouragement is within the federal government's responsibility as noted in Article 1 of the Constitution.
The infrastructure bill promises affordable and convenient mass transit, but history has shown that it will be neither. High-speed rail in California was off to a great start: $2 billion from President Obama and $8 billion from Governor Schwarzenegger in 2010, with the promise of the next $20 billion in bonds to cover the remainder and begin operations in 2020. Ten years later, it appears that for every day the project is under construction, it experiences two days of delays — and for every dollar spent, the final cost climbs by two dollars. But California's failure is not unique. Amtrak has been a disaster for decades.
America has succeeded with past interstate commerce projects: freight rail lines, the interstate highway system, the air travel system, and the waterways systems. All were once the envy of the world. But transportation system user fees were swept into the general fund, so users were no longer paying for the service they received.
Infrastructure is too important to become a political football. It is time for Congress to provide permanent funding of interstate infrastructure maintenance and upgrades while encouraging — not underwriting — private high-speed rail projects like Florida's successful Brightline.
The Project Labor Agreement (PLA) provision in the current infrastructure bill requires every worker on any federally financed project to be a dues-paying union member. All companies that want to work on these projects must be union signatories. I believe that every American has a right to choose whether to belong to a union. The Biden/Harris Administration's PLA provision steals that choice. The administration should remove the PLA provision and allow workers to choose whether they want to join a union.
There is time to revise and improve the infrastructure bill. Contact your U.S. senators and demand they support these changes to the bill: require that all bills include a "carbon reduction analysis" report so Congress knows whether a bill will decrease or increase greenhouse gases. Require fuel taxes and user fees to once again fund infrastructure. Require all federal projects to allow workers the choice to belong or not belong to a union.
Mick Rich hosts "To the Point with Mick Rich" on Substack and broadcast TV and radio in New Mexico. He was the 2018 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in New Mexico.
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