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Bumpy road ahead for bipartisan infrastructure bill

TAGS: Farm Policy
Road question marks - GettyImages482060980.jpg
Inclusion of outside priorities such as climate change and tax reform could derail chances of bipartisanship.

“Given how Republicans and Democrats overall agree that improving infrastructure is a legitimate use of government resources, there is a unique opportunity to achieve something significant on behalf of the American people in a collaborative, bipartisan manner if the focus remains on enhancing roads, bridges, inland waterways, ports, railroads, etc.,” says Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soybean Transportation Coalition.

However, he’s concerned to see the proposal extend beyond what most Americans would define as “infrastructure.”

“Whenever legislative proposals and initiatives – especially controversial ones – get attached to a particular plan, the prospects of ultimate passage usually go down rather than up,” Steenhoek says.

In our recent Farm Futures survey, 60% of our farmers say in regard to policy priorities, infrastructure improvements were extremely important or very important to their farming operation, and another 28% say moderately important. The same survey also found that 29% of our readers believe infrastructure has strong bipartisan support. 

Infrastructure is commonly known as an opportunity for bipartisanship. Even in the President Donald Trump era, hopes were high for bringing together members from both sides of the aisle to advance common ground in investing in infrastructure. However, Trump’s desire to have the private sector pick up a larger portion of the price tag never gained traction.

Now President Joe Biden proposes to raise corporate taxes to pay for the $2 trillion package. The proposal will not raise taxes on individuals who earn more than $400,000, which seems nice but for farm business entities staying below that threshold could be a challenge. 

In announcing the plan, Biden says he’s going to bring Republicans into the Oval Office and listen to what they have to say and “be open to other ideas.” He adds, “We’ll have a good-faith negotiation with any Republican who wants to help get this done. But we have to get it done.”

Related: Ag industry mixed on Biden’s infrastructure plan

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-N.Y., also says, “It is time for the partisanship that stood in the way of infrastructure projects to end, and I hope that Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on an issue that both parties have cited as a major priority and that the American people broadly support.”

From investments in the electric grid to funding for research and development, the plan devotes hundreds of billions of dollars directly to tackling climate change. It’s been seen as a vehicle to advance many provisions of the Green New Deal.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D.N.Y., was quoted in the New York Times saying, “One of the big goals we had when we introduced the Green New Deal was to show how people thought about climate change from being a billion dollar problem to a trillion-dollar opportunity…. This infrastructure package generally seems to be shaping up in that kind of framework.”  

Some of that is what has many Republicans leery. And if Democrats choose to go down a path leaving Republicans out of the discussion in crafting the bill similiar to what they did in the latest COVID relief plan, the path does not look smooth for passage. 

“My advice to the administration is if you want to do an infrastructure bill, let’s do an infrastructure bill. Let’s don’t turn it into a massive effort to raise taxes on businesses and individuals,” warns Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Chris Gibbs, a farmer from Ohio and board president of Rural Voices USA, a nationwide network of farmers and rural community leaders, says, “Rural Americans, and farmers like me, understand the importance of America’s infrastructure. Our nation’s roads, bridges, railroads, waterways, locks, ports and broadband infrastructure are what connect the American heartland to our customers. These systems are critical to our economic survival.”

Gibbs adds, "Getting this done in a bipartisan manner should be the priority but putting these investments on hold any longer shouldn’t be an option.”

At the end of the day, I think this is what all farmers want. An infrastructure bill with bipartisan support that helps keeps rural America competitive. Another legislative path with votes only from one side of the aisle likely does not offer the solutions many in rural America seek. 

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