Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Jan. 19, 2022

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Schmidt: Giving thanks for passage of infrastructure bill


It is common to hear children singing “Over the River and Through the Wood” this time of year. The lyrics of the song are based on a Thanksgiving poem by Lydia Maria Child originally published in 1844 titled “The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day.” The poet was reminiscing about visiting her grandfather’s house as a child and traveling by horse-drawn sleigh.

The song has me thinking of both Thanksgiving and the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Take a few minutes to think about how connected Thanksgiving and infrastructure really are. If you are traveling for the holiday, then you rely on the safety of roads, highways, bridges, rails and airports. If you plan on drinking water or rinsing vegetables at grandma’s, you hope the infrastructure is delivering clean and healthy water, free of lead. You trust that the energy grid will deliver gas or electricity to heat your oven to cook the turkey or bake a pumpkin pie. It seems like everyone is now aware of how important our ports are to the supply chain. And if you can’t make it home for the holiday, then you hope you have broadband to have a Zoom call with family or friends.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to evaluate the nation’s infrastructure. It also coincides with President Joe Biden’s signing of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill will upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, water systems and broadband. Both former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump promised to deliver an infrastructure plan but were unsuccessful.

The infrastructure bill has broad support. In a recent Morning Consult-Politico poll, 56 percent of registered-voter respondents said they approve of the bill, including 27 percent who strongly support it. Only 27 percent either somewhat or strongly oppose it, and 17 percent were unsure.

Not only do voters support the bill, so does the American Society of Civil Engineers, which hails the bill on its website: “The United States has taken a major step forward in improving the nation’s critical infrastructure.”

The society also completes a quadrennial infrastructure report card for the nation as a whole and for each state individually. Members give the nation’s infrastructure a grade of C minus.

Most Republicans voted against the bill. Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri said on the conservative “Marc Cox Morning Show Podcast” that the infrastructure bill is “nothing more than a Trojan horse for a socialist agenda.”

My mind has trouble making the leap from upgrading our highways, bridges and water pipes to a socialist agenda.

One of the problems with our hyperpolarized political state is when elected officials vote with their eye toward having only their side of the agenda win, the citizens who they represent end up losing.

Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower could be considered the granddaddy of infrastructure. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act. Eisenhower saw the vision of the interstate highway system and worked to find bipartisan support for a very important part of the nation’s infrastructure.

Eisenhower stated at the time: “Together, the united forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear — United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.” Perhaps we should think of infrastructure as Eisenhower did, something that can connect and unite us.

During the holidays, after my family travels over the river and through the woods to my children’s grandparents’ house, I offer my thanks for our nation’s infrastructure, the passing of the bipartisan bill, and for those members of Congress who voted for it.

Lynn Schmidt is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch