Ex-Gov. Rendell on Biden’s infrastructure plan: ‘Doing nothing is not an option’ | Thursday Morning Coffee

April 1, 2021 7:12 am

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.

President Joe Biden discusses the details of his $2 trillion infrastructure plan during a stop at Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Wednesday, 3/31/21 (C-Span screen capture)

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.”

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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.”

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 23: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to the Senate floor following a recess in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on January 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. Democratic House managers will continue their opening arguments on Thursday as the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump continues. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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?”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Staff Reporter Stephen Caruso
 leads our coverage this morning with a profile of state Rep. Amen Brown, a Philadelphia Democrat with a mission that’s raising eyebrows; Increasing mandatory minimum sentences.

President Joe Biden returned to Pennsylvania for the second time in as many weeks on Wednesday, where he pitched a $2 trillion infrastructure plan, calling it a “once in a generation” investment in the nation’s future, I report.

Pennsylvania will open COVID-19 vaccinations to all state residents by April 19, Cassie Miller reports.

As Republicans shift their strategy from election lawsuits to laws, voting rights advocates are warning of plummeting participationNate Rau, of our sibling site, the Tennessee Lookout reports in a special report that includes reporting from across the States Newsroom network — including Pennsylvania.

On our Commentary Page this morning, Penn State public policy expert Simon Haeder says that universities, guided by evidence, need to lead the way on reopening. And Timothy P. Williams, superintendent of the York Suburban School District, in York County, says state officials need to implement the Fair Funding Formula with fidelity.

Philadelphia City Hall (Image via

The families of Philadelphia homicide victims often are left with the responsibility of cleaning up the crime scene — an expensive and traumatizing task, the Inquirer reports.
The University of Pittsburgh has ordered its 29,000 students to shelter in place as the school goes through a surge in COVID-19 cases, the Post-Gazette reports.
Recent history tells Pa. where to spend its pandemic relief fundsWill the state heed the lessons, PennLive’s John Baer asks (paywall).
Lancaster County is on pace to hit 6,000 shots a day next weekLancasterOnline reports (paywall).
The Morning Call considers whether passenger rail is returning to the Lehigh Valley.
The Citizens’ Voice answers your COVID-19 vaccine questions.
Activists gathered in York on Wednesday to hold a vigil for peace after recent violence in the city, the York Daily Record reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day.


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Officials in suburban Philadelphia are ‘breathing a huge sigh of relief’ now that the state has dropped a plan for regional vaccine sites, WHYY-FM reports.
Pennsylvania college students are having trouble affording food and housing, WHYY-FM also reports. (via WITF-FM).
Warning Erie motorists: The city’s on-street parking rules will change starting today, GoErie reports.
Some 1,300 union steelworkers, including 180 in Washington County, went on strike against Allegheny Technologies Inc., the Observer-Reporter reports. looks at how states plan to dole out $195 billion in COVID-19 aid.
Democrat Rita Hart is dropping her challenge of the election results in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, Roll Call reports, handing the seat to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

What Goes On.
The House State Government Committee meets at 12:30m p.m. in G50 Irvis for a public hearing on “election integrity and accessibility policy.”

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to PennLive’s Hope Stephan, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Dept. of Reopening.
The conventional wisdom is that we’re all supposed to rapturous about getting sprung from captivity when the pandemic ends and we’re all vaccinated. But what if you’re not looking forward to getting back out there again? Well, you’re not aloneRefinery29 reports.

Heavy Rotation.
Alt.rockers Garbage are back with some new music, which makes today a very good day, indeed. Here’s ‘The Men Who Rule the World.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Buffalo finally snapped its epic, 18-game losing skid, beating the Flyers 6-1 on Wednesday night.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.