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WASHINGTON — Infrastructure funding has traditionally been a broadly bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill, but President Joe Biden’s sweeping infrastructure bill passed Friday night mostly along party lines.
Only 19 members of Congress broke with their parties on the bill, which passed 228-206 with Democrats largely supporting the legislation and Republicans mostly opposed.
So who were those 19 lawmakers — 13 Republicans and six Democrats — who bucked their parties? They can be broken down roughly into three camps: Republicans who consulted with negotiators on the bill; Republicans who maintain the party’s traditional view that funding infrastructure is more important than fighting a president of a different party; and members of the liberal group known as the Squad.
Six Democrats who are part of the progressive group known as “The Squad” — Jamaal Bowman of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — voted against Biden’s plan to spend $550 billion in new funds over 10 years to shore up roads, bridges and highways, improve internet access and modernize the nation’s power grid.
The Squad has grown from four to six members since 2019, when Ocasio-Cortez, the highest-profile progressive on Capitol Hill, entered Congress. Its members were among the leading supporters of the strategy to use the infrastructure bill as leverage for passing Biden’s broader agenda: a $1.85 trillion social safety net and climate change bill.
Ocasio-Cortez has argued that the provisions in Biden’s bill to fight climate change are needed to offset the impact on the environment from a surge in funding for construction projects.
Passing the infrastructure bill without the larger domestic policy package “makes our emissions & climate crisis worse,” she wrote on Twitter in October. “It keeps us in the emissions red.”
Her position was shared by the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus until centrist Democrats who had been holdouts on the broader bill pledged Friday night that they would vote for it no later than the week of Nov. 15, unless the Congressional Budget Office determines its costs are “inconsistent” with the $1.85 trillion estimate put forth by Biden’s staff.
While most progressives then agreed to vote for the bill, members of the Squad did not view the centrists’ assurances as good enough and chose to stick with their position of demanding both bills pass at the same time. Bush said that passing the infrastructure bill alone “jeopardized our leverage” on the broader bill — which includes monthly payments to families with children, universal prekindergarten, health care subsidies and a four-week paid family and medical leave program — and endangered progressives’ ability to “improve the livelihood of our health care workers, our children, our caregivers, our seniors, and the future of our environment.”
Still, Pressley cast her vote against the infrastructure bill after it had enough votes to pass.
That position infuriated some moderate Democrats. One of them, Rep. Tom Suozzi of New York, equated the opposition of left-leaning fellow New Yorkers like Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman with far-right Republicans like Lee Zeldin of New York for voting against a bill that would funnel billions of dollars into the state for subways, sewers and broadband.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Suozzi, who is contemplating a run for governor, told reporters at a New York political conclave in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Saturday. “These are two sides of the same coin: People so far out on the fringe instead of trying to get stuff done to help people and make people's lives better. That’s what people are sick and tired of.”
Republican ‘Problem Solvers’
Eight Republicans who voted in favor of the infrastructure bill — Don Bacon of Nebraska, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Andrew Garbarino of New York, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, John Katko of New York, Tom Reed of New York, Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey and Fred Upton of Michigan — were part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who helped negotiate the infrastructure bill this summer, consulting with centrists in the Senate.
The group known as the Problem Solvers Caucus, including Fitzpatrick, the Republican co-chairman, had once hoped to deliver as many as 29 Republican House votes for the bill but saw members fall away once Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, and other top Republicans opposed it as they ramped up their campaign against Biden’s agenda.
Still, with improvements to highways, bridges, dams, public transit, rail, ports, airports, water quality and broadband coming to the districts, eight members of the group cast their votes in favor of the plan.
Garbarino, who represents part of Long Island, cited the benefits for New York — including $24.9 billion for highways, bridges and transit; $15 billion to replace lead service lines for drinking water; and $470 million for New York’s Kennedy, La Guardia, MacArthur and Republic airports — among his reasons for embracing the bill.
The vote “was about roads, bridges, and clean water,” he said. “It was about real people, and the tangible action Congress could take to better their lives by rebuilding and revitalizing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.”
The Republicans who voted in favor of the bill faced backlash from some hard-right members of their party. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., posted their office phone numbers on Twitter and accused them of handing over their “voting cards to Nancy Pelosi to pass Joe Biden’s communist takeover of America.”
Republican Traditionalists on Infrastructure
A final group of five House Republicans joined members of the Problem Solvers Caucus in bucking their party to support the bill. This group — Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Don Young of Alaska, Nicole Malliotakis of New York, David B. McKinley of West Virginia and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — can be roughly defined as embracing the party’s traditionalist view of funding infrastructure.
Young, 88, is the Republican Party’s longest-serving member, having represented Alaska for 25 terms. He endorsed the bill in September, arguing the party has always supported funding roads and bridges and emphasizing that past infrastructure votes were “darn near” unanimous.
“We need infrastructure in this country now,” Young said. “This is the last opportunity we have to make sure those potholes are filled, those airports run right, that bridges are safe and our economy can continue to grow.”
Others, much newer to Congress, said they shared Young’s view on the issue.
Malliotakis, who is in her first term representing Staten Island, released a statement explaining her vote that listed various projects the funding could support in her community, including “completing the High-Occupancy Vehicles lane on the Staten Island Expressway,” fortifying coastal neighborhoods and expanding “our sewer systems to deal with the next Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Ida.”
“Simply put, it’s this type of investment that will not only save city residents’ time and money, but also their properties and lives,” she said.
© 2021 The New York Times Company