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Bill Straub: Roads, bridges are socialism? Only one House member from KY votes for infrastructure bill

So, old Tom Jefferson was as red as Trotsky. Who’da thunk it?

That, at least, is the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the remarks of that perennial backbencher, Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, regarding the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act he opposed, a bipartisan measure that finally passed through Congress last week after months of bickering.

The spending plan covers a lot of territory, ranging from improving the nation’s quickly deteriorating roads to upgrading mass transit to extending internet access. It even includes a provision that provides an opportunity to replace that old wreck, the Brent Spence Bridge, crossing the Ohio River connecting Covington with Cincinnati.

It’s the kind of bill that, at least in a sane political climate, almost every member of Congress could support. Of course a majority of Republicans, wary of providing President Biden with any credit for pushing through popular legislation, voted against it, including all five Kentucky GOP House members. To no one’s surprise, that walking, talking national embarrassment, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, cast his lot in opposition, even though the Spence bridge is in his district.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Barr stands out with his no vote, not because it was unexpected – being a good boy he’ll do what the party’s leadership dictates – but because of his rationale – it’s socialism.

“In the dead of the night on a Friday evening, Democrats rushed to pass their big government socialist agenda,” Barr explained via Twitter. “I voted no to protect hard working Kentuckians from the largest tax, borrow and spend package in American history.”

How brave.

Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, whose southeastern Kentucky has as many infrastructure needs as anyplace else in the country, also pulled out the socialism card for no particular reason other than to scare people in explaining his no vote.

“There is a better way to serve the American people,” Rogers said without explaining how. “We not only need to repair our nation’s infrastructure, we need to repair the deficit of trust that continues to grow with socialist schemes like this.”

If you haven’t noticed, self-described conservatives like Andy Barr and Hal Rogers have begun defining everything they’re against as socialism. Regardless of whether the issue is mustard or ketchup on a hot dog or the designated hitter, the lawmakers immediately defend their position by asserting the other side represents socialism.

It’s rather infantile when you think about if for even a millisecond. The idea is to throw the buzz word out and hope that those listening react as if they’re watching a particularly bloody scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In fact, federal spending on roads is almost as old as the republic itself, coming years before Marx and Engels plotted against capitalism. In 1806, Congress passed and President Jefferson signed legislation creating the National Road, which, during its initial incarnation from 1811 to 1837, extended 620 miles from Cumberland MD to Vandalia, IL. It was the first, and obviously not the last time, the federal government funded a road construction project.

Jefferson, who wasn’t generally enthusiastic about large federal expenditures, nonetheless promoted the road to support westward expansion and unify a nation in its infancy. But just like today, the project wasn’t without detractors.

According to the National Geographic Society:

“The construction of a federal road sparked controversy at the time Congress approved it, however. Many statesmen could not justify the expense, given the fact that, by this time, canals and rivers had proven to be efficient for transport. More significantly, however, people questioned the idea that the federal government should fund a roadway. They questioned whether the Constitution allowed for it.”

Today, according to National Geographic, federal highways “form the backbone of the country’s infrastructure.” So imagine for a moment that the Andy Barrs of the early 1800s had prevailed, citing whatever passed for socialism in the day, and the National Road, and subsequent federal highways, never got built.

And consider, if Biden and Jefferson are socialistas, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, can be expected to leave the upper chamber to become the supreme leader of the politburo. McConnell, to his credit, it should be noted, gave his blessing to Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH, and other moderate conservatives in the chamber to work with majority Democrats on an infrastructure bill both sides could support. And when the time came, McConnell followed through and voted for the package.

“We have a lot of infrastructure needs, both in rural areas and with big bridges,” McConnell told WKYT-TV, of Lexington, while touring the AppHarvest food facility in Morehead. “It’s a godsend for Kentucky.”

And, for what it’s worth, Barr’s reference to “the largest tax, borrow and spend package in American history” doesn’t hold water. The package uses unspent COVID-19 funds and federal unemployment insurance assistance that some states are no longer accepting. The rest comes from various caches, including petroleum reserve sales.

To be fair, Barr wasn’t the only Kentucky congressman to whiff on the infrastructure bill.

“I voted NO on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed Congress in the dark of night,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, repeating the silly “dark of night” comment used by Barr, showing the talking points either came from GOP House leadership or the Republican National Committee. “Less than 10% of the bill contained surface infrastructure, like roads and bridges, with significant money going toward things that do not affect Kentucky’s 1st District — like mass transit and green energy.”

Rogers also chimed in on spending, insisting the package didn’t dedicate enough to basic needs.

“We desperately need improvements to our infrastructure, especially in rural Kentucky, but the truth is that less than half of new spending in this bill goes toward real infrastructure projects, and this legislation is being used to coerce more members to vote for a far more destructive spending binge that puts our country on a fast-track toward socialism,” he said.

Half or 10 percent? Make up your minds.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint, spending on traditional infrastructure in the bill is well above 10 percent. The package contains $550 billion above the usual funding allocations included in the budget for infrastructure projects every year. Roads and bridges receive $110 billion in new money under the plan. railroads get $66 billion, airports $25 billion and ports $17 billion.

Additional funding includes money for upgrading the power grid and improving waterworks. The $110 billion for roads and bridges is by far the largest single commitment in the plan.

The GOP lawmakers have plenty of phony baloney excuses for opposing a bill set on improving the nation’s vital infrastructure needs. But you can bet on one thing – when it comes time to cut the ribbon on a brand spanking new project funded by the measure, they’ll all attend the event with a smile and a pair of scissors to act like it was their idea in the first place.

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  1. Marv Dunn says:

    Massey seems to think we in Northern Kentucky don’t need no stinkin’ bridge! I doubt that many in this area even know about his vote. This area is hard Republican and will vote for anybody with an “R” behind their name. We badly need another “R” to primary this guy. Will anybody step forward? Using Massey’s bridge vote as a campaign issue might finally rid of us of him.

  2. Richard says:

    Massey and others are fine with voting for infrastructure, as long as it is paid for. As your article states, roads and bridges account for about 10% of the total cost of this bill. America will eventually default on its debt if the deficit spending continues. This bill is only partially funded and will add to our current debt of 28 trillion dollars. You should read more about the dire affects of America defaulting on its debt, it might change you mind. The democrats and president Biden want to spend an additional 1.75 trillion in the next bill (called build back better). Besides the growing deficit, this spending will push our inflation rate even higher. Its been 30 years since we have seen inflation this high. Its very sad that liberals and conservatives can’t agree on the simple things, like living within your means.

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