Perfect the Enemy of Good

I wrote a blog post on February 15, 2015, called, The Real Trick to Making America Great Again. Although the title plays off Trump’s MAGA, it really had nothing to do with Trump. Rather, I wrote that, “[t]he singular most significant action each of us can take this year is to demand the members of Congress put the good of the country ahead of partisan gamesmanship and special interests.”

Six-plus years later, and the problem is even worse. So is the problem the post was really about, which is the state of America’s infrastructure and Federal government’s responsibility to do something about it – because ultimately, they are the only entity that can because the problem is so huge.

The most recent Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives our Nation’s infrastructure a D+, and states we need to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020 just to get it up to standard. The number one solution toward beginning to raise the grade according to ASCE is to, “increase leadership in infrastructure renewal” and the organization maintains, “America’s infrastructure needs bold leadership and a compelling vision at the national level”.

Fortunately, Americans demanded action and leaders stepped up, [sarcasm cued], raising our country’s infrastructure score all the way up to a C- since 2015. Okay, okay, at least we are moving in the right direction. But, way too little has been done as the ACSE points out on its website:

There is a water main break every two minutes and an estimated 6 billion gallons of treated water lost each day in the U.S., enough to fill over 9,000 swimming pools.

Growing wear and tear on our nation’s roads have left 43% of our public roadways in poor or mediocre condition, a number that has remained stagnant over the past several years.

There are 30,000 miles of inventoried levees across the U.S., and an additional 10,000 miles of levees whose location and condition are unknown.

These are just three examples of the scope of the problem and the cost of addressing them is increasing every day. In 2015, an expert panel at the University of Virginia determined we needed to spend $134 to $194 billion more each year through 2035 just to maintain current infrastructure.

The ASCE Infrastructure Report is comprehensive, addressing 18 different categories of infrastructure including: aviation, bridges, broadband, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, public parks, ports, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, stormwater, transit, and wastewater. It also provides a state-by-state look at these infrastructure categories. The good news is, Arizona is slightly better than the national score with a C grade. Our worst areas are roads with a D+ and no one who drives on them should be surprised by that grade. And the problem isn’t just the jarring rides we experience but also the additional “tax” we pay because our roads aren’t properly maintained. Even in 2015, “[o]ur substandard roads, cost urban motorists $700 to $1,000 per driver in repairs, wear and tear, and fuel. This [didn’t] even count the lost time involved in lower speeds and detours.” At least Arizona’s bridges are okay, earning a B+ score. Our drinking water, levees, dams and wastewater need work though, earning a C-.

The really good news is that Congress is closer than they’ve been in a very long time, to actually taking action to help remedy the problem. The U.S. Senate actually passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill by a 69-30 vote on August 10th, after months of negotiation. This was down from the $2 trillion or so President Biden wanted, but he supports the bipartisan bill because as stated in a White House fact sheet,

President Biden believes that we must invest in our country and in our people, creating good-paying union jobs, tackling the climate crisis, and growing the economy sustainably, and equitably for decades to come. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework is a critical step in accomplishing these objectives.

He also knows that “democracy requires compromise“, and that is why I side with the nine moderate U.S. House Democrats threatening to oppose Biden’s $3.5 trillion social policy package unless the infrastructure bill is first signed into law. Yes, I get that we need to go big. But…going big can also result in a bust and we just can’t take that risk. Our nation, as well as the rest of the world, is already dealing with a third COVID resurgence and the devastating impacts of climate change, do we really need to add more crumbling infrastructure to the existing chaos?

It is sad that a critically needed bipartisan infrastructure bill should be such a heavy lift but that’s today’s reality. Adding another very complex layer of political maneuvering on top of the achievable for a slight chance of the possible, just doesn’t seem smart. That is evidently the feeling of the nine moderate Dems promising to hold out on $3.5T until the $1.2T is passed. Obtained by the New York Times, they wrote a letter to Nancy Pelosi in which they said,

Some have suggested that we hold off on considering the Senate infrastructure bill for months until the reconciliation process is completed. We disagree. With the livelihoods of hardworking American families at stake, we simply can’t afford months of unnecessary delays and risk squandering this once-in-a-century, bipartisan infrastructure package. Time to get shovels in the ground and people to work. We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law.

This certainly puts Pelosi in a pickle since House progressives are insisting the Senate must vote on the social spending package before she moves the infrastructure bill in the House. I have faith that if anyone can navigate this minefield, it is the 17th-term U.S. Representative from California. I’m pretty confident actually, that she is working it extremely hard. She knows after all, that this isn’t just about fixing America’s infrastructure. It is also, as President Biden said of the infrastructure bill passage in the Senate, “we proved that democracy can still work”. Yes, $3.5T for social policies would be great and is badly needed. But let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good. It would be really good to get some stuff fixed. It would be even better to prove our democracy isn’t totally broken. Yes, that would be really, really good.