Biden won on infrastructure. Democrats are struggling to get voters to care. > Dogecointool

Biden won on infrastructure. Democrats are struggling to get voters to care.

Republicans take aim

Republicans are largely taking two approaches to the infrastructure package — bashing the Biden administration’s attempts to steer the spending, but basking in money that ends up in their backyards.

Republicans have panned the Biden administration’s attempts to interpret the law to fit their environmental and social justice aims, such as a fix-it-first policy for highways and regulations to force states to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

One partisan flashpoint was a December 2021 memo from the Federal Highway Administration that pressed state transportation projects to avoid spending their new infrastructure money on highway widening, saying they should make it a priority to repair and upgrade existing roads instead. The administration argued this approach will make transportation safer while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Sixteen GOP governors lambasted that effort in a letter to Biden as “a clear example of federal overreach,” noting that the guidance includes restrictions that were intentionally left out of the final bill. The governors’ letter also warned Biden against trying to “push a social agenda through hard infrastructure investments,” specifically through “excessive consideration of equity, union memberships, or climate.”

Two dozen Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, sent Buttigieg their own letter attacking the FHWA memo. Buttigieg later admitted under fire from Republicans in congressional hearings that the memo’s suggestions weren’t binding.

“A number of these policies run contrary to the compromises” that won the legislation bipartisan approval, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told Buttigieg during a congressional hearing in May. She said the guidance “creates winners and losers among different types of projects.”

Some Western state leaders have also complained that the law’s requirements for placing electric vehicle charging stations along interstate highways could be impossible to meet, considering their states’ vast expanses of open space. They’ve also pressed for flexibility in using money from the law to address threats such as droughts, earthquakes and wildfires.

“A lot of the needs on the East Coast reflect aging infrastructure, whereas in the West, there’s the need to build new and expand roads and highways,” said Sophia DiCaro, a senior adviser to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, who signed the letter to Biden that’s critical of federal guidance for infrastructure spending.

Not that Republicans necessarily oppose the spending the law makes possible.

Take Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, who as the top Republican on the House Transportation Committee led the charge against the bill’s passage. In August, his office issued news releases announcing that street and sidewalk projects in Excelsior Springs and Maryville had won a combined $27.5 million in grants provided by the law.

“Congratulations to all who put in the effort to get this money,” he said.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), announcing a $21.7 million grant for a project separating a road from a freight rail line, said she was “pleased the Department of Transportation recognizes the critical safety benefits that the completion of this project will bring to the community.” She also noted that she had sent DOT letters of support for the project and personally called department leadership throughout the decision-making process.

McMorris Rodgers had also voted against the bill.

When asked about these inconsistencies, Republicans have said that once the law was enacted and the grant money was available, it was their responsibility to advocate for their communities to get their share.

Nineteen GOP senators, including McConnell, voted for the bill, but just 13 Republicans supported it in the House. Most of those 13 won’t return to Congress next year, including four who retired after taking party-bucking votes to impeach Trump last year.

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