There was nothing grand or sweeping about the projects President Joe Biden highlighted on his swing through Louisiana Thursday to pitch his big infrastructure plan, no pie-in-the-sky dream that would cause Republican critics to scoff. The decrepit Interstate 10 bridge in Lake Charles and the ancient Sewerage & Water Board facilities in New Orleans are exactly the sort of public works that both parties used to work together to maintain, and eventually replace.
As the president put it while speaking in Lake Charles of his proposal for a “once in a generation” investment, “I’ve never seen a Republican or Democrat road. I just see roads.”
The discussion surrounding Biden’s $2.3 trillion proposal is more complicated than that, of course. There’s legitimate debate over the scope of his ambitions, and the semantics of the far-reaching proposals that Biden is labeling infrastructure in the first place.
But having a president view up close the shortcomings of the systems Louisianans rely upon every day — and allowing locals to present their own wish lists, including desperately needed hurricane relief after Lake Charles’ horrific 2020 — is an opportunity that should transcend politics.
At the S&WB’s Carrollton Water Plant, executive director Ghassan Korban ominously warned Biden that the city’s water purification system could fail at any time, and if it doesn’t, is not capable of meeting future water quality standards or of capturing “emerging contaminants.” What the city needs, he explained, is a more modern filtration system.
And with the Lake Charles bridge as a backdrop, Biden talked of how the roadway is 20 years beyond its planned life span, how it causes traffic nightmares by narrowing the interstate from six lanes to four, how vital it is for hurricane evacuations and how necessary upgrades are in the age of climate change and superstorms.
While he used the appearance in a decidedly Republican area to pitch some aspects of his proposal that are meeting GOP resistance, including the corporate tax hike to pay for it, Biden also cast the political fight as a Washington phenomenon far from the needs on the ground.
“I find more support from Republican governors and mayors and Democratic governors and mayors around the country because they’ve got to answer the question: Is life better in this town, this city, this state than it was before I got elected?” he said after being introduced by Lake Charles’ Republican Mayor Nic Hunter. “And we can make it better.”
For his part, Biden said he was open to working across party lines if Republicans in Washington are too. We urge Louisiana’s mostly GOP congressional delegation to make a good-faith effort and not leave Biden and congressional Democrats to go this one alone. To that end, we were glad to see Republican U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, and John Kennedy, of Madisonville, join local Democrats in greeting Biden, and disappointed that U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, who represents Lake Charles, was absent.
“I’m willing to hear ideas from both sides. I’m meeting with my Republican friends up in the Congress to see, No. 1, how much they’re willing to go for, what they think are the priorities,” Biden said. “I’m ready to compromise, but I’m not ready to do nothing.”
We’re not naive enough to think such compromise in today’s Washington is easy, or at all likely. But we agree with the president that infrastructure knows no party allegiances — and that kicking the can down the road once more would only make things worse.