Former Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell (WikiMedia Commons).
Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Since leaving office a decade ago, Pennsylvania’s former two-term Democratic governor has kept his hand in state and national politics, notably pitching in on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign; offering a legion of opinions to MSNBC’s viewers. and doing some rainmaker work for his old law firm, Philly’s Ballard Spahr.
But the Philadelphian’s always been something of an infrastructure evangelist (even lending his voice to help ex-GOP Gov. Tom Corbett’s $2.5 billion transportation funding program over the goal line), and has spent part of his post-public career as co-leader, with former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, of Building America’s Future, an advocacy organization focused on improving infrastructure across the country.
Rendell spent a few minutes talking to the Capital-Star about President Joe Biden’s stop in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, where the president rolled out an eight-year, $2 trillion infrastructure package that runs the gamut from road and bridge repairs and broadband expansion to increasing manufacturing jobs across the country.
The conversation below has been lightly edited for clarity and content.
Q: You’ve seen the White House’s plan – if not the fine print, then the view from 50,000 feet. What are your top two takeaways?
Rendell: “Let’s start with Fact No 1: Doing nothing for four years is incomprehensible. It’s impossible to think, as far as our infrastructure has fallen, that we’d let partisan bickering stop us. Doing nothing is not an option. The World Economic Forum rated the infrastructure of various countries … We’re at No. 11 in economic competitiveness and No. 13 in quality. It’s embarrassing to see where the U.S. is.
“So something has to be done. And it has to be big and bold. And, No. 2, Biden has done something that does just that. But it’s not so big as to be massive. Critics might say we can’t afford to spend all that, but what that person is not telling the public is that it’s spread over eight years. So you do it that way, and you’re spending $180 billion a year. It’s a nice amount, but it’s not massive. It is money that we can put to use right away.”
“And, three, the infrastructure dollars are directed to the right things. There’s $621 billion for roads, bridges, highways, mass-transit and rail systems. That’s all desperately needed.”
Q: Some Republicans already are saying, as was the case with the American Rescue Plan, that this is a liberal wish-list. filled with non-germane spending items. How do you get them onside?
Rendell: “Do I think we can pass this with Republican votes – yes, if we give them a clean bill, without healthcare or education money. I would put a clean bill on the floor. I believe we’d get 40 or so Republicans in the House. We have a chance, if it’s a straight-up clean bill.”
Q: Can you get to 60 votes in the U.S. Senate without using [budget] reconciliation (a process that would allow Democrats to pass the bill without obtaining Republican support)?
Rendell: “You do have the possible road to go down on reconciliation, but that would be your last shot at using reconciliation. And you’d miss out on a chance to do something together. The public wants to see us work together. There’s something very salutary for the American people to see a bill pass with Republican and Democratic support.
“But there’s not a guarantee that a spending bill in the House and Senate can hold every Democratic vote. If you had 40 Republicans, you could afford to lose some [Democratic] votes in the House. If you had … Republicans in the Senate, you could afford to lose some Democrats.”
Q: There are some Democrats, such as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who are raising concerns, saying the bill doesn’t go far enough. Is that just politics, or is there a genuine concern that some progressives won’t be on board?
Rendell: “They’re staking out a position right now. If there is an infrastructure bill of the nature of $2 trillion, every progressive would have to vote for it. And on the tax portion, the reason I think Republicans could support this, when [Donald] Trump was president, they wanted to take the top rate from 35 percent to 28 percent. They went to 21 percent. If we went back to 28 percent (as Biden has proposed, Ed.), they’d still be getting what they asked for. No one can object to companies like Amazon paying taxes every year. How can you be against that?”
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