Opinion | Campaign

Feehery: It's time for Senate Republicans to play hardball on infrastructure

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

As I was driving down I-95 and then I-85 on the way to another travel baseball tournament, I started to appreciate what Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was trying to do when it comes to improving infrastructure in this country. 

Anybody who has driven south from DC to Richmond, or west from South Bend to Chicago, or north from Philly to Boston or all around in Los Angeles or Atlanta knows one thing: Our roads and bridges need massive investment.

I encountered two massive accidents on the road down to Atlanta this weekend and my trip, which should take eight and a half hours, took 11. We barely made the game.

And my story isn't unusual. Traffic is terrible and getting much, much worse. 

Politicians understand this and that is why Rob Portman is trying hard to get a deal with the Democrats.  He wants to do something that will be popular with the voters so that we as a nation can move on from the rank partisanship that has come to typify that last four years. 

Democrats want to do an infrastructure two-step. They want to get Republicans to join with them on a traditional package of roads, bridges and building infrastructure that will cost about a trillion dollars, mostly paid for with a series of budget gimmicks that won't be branded as taxes by the GOP. 

Then they want to move to a massive human infrastructure package that will be paid for with massive tax increases. Usually, tax increases are an unpopular price of doing business, but for the Democrats, they actually want to raise taxes because they believe that through the power of taxation, they can put the fossil fuel industry out of business and punish rich people for being rich.

Republicans shouldn't be in the business of giving President Biden a huge political victory on infrastructure and then sit idly by as progressives pass their huge tax-and-spend proposals in a partisan reconciliation package. Instead, they should tell moderate Democrats that the price to do business on the first package is their written assurance that they won't support the second one. Why should Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) be able to get all the credit for a winning infrastructure package and then get a second bite of the apple with a partisan tax-and-spend package that goes against all Republican principles? 

And in fact, getting those two to agree to not support the second reconciliation package might help any moderate Democrats who are looking at the midterms and wondering how they can possibly win reelection. 

It's not like the voters really want more government intrusion into their lives nor do they want more taxes that will slow the economy, kill jobs and make the price of gasoline go even higher.

Republicans have a lot of power, despite their minority status. The Senate is 50/50. The House is as closely divided as it has been in a generation. The president's popularity ratings are sinking.   

The president doesn't have a huge mandate to achieve fundamental change in our energy policy, nor does he have a mandate to saddle our kids with $4 trillion more in wasteful government spending. 

So Republicans should use the leverage they have and tell the Democrats that if they are going to pass a reconciliation package, then it is no deal on infrastructure. And they should take that message directly to the so-called moderates. 

The American people don't want job-killing tax increases or inflation-causing spending. They do want their roads, bridges and public buildings to be fixed, expanded and made more resilient. 

The GOP should play hardball. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).