The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that Congress finally passed and that President Joe Biden is ready to sign is a win for Louisiana. For all the political bickering around the topic, it really is that simple.
The bill — which is separate from the social spending proposal that’s still the subject of heated debate — will bring investments in roads and bridges, environmental resilience, outdated water systems, the electrical grid, broadband and even some of the underpinnings of a cleaner energy economy.
Gov. John Bel Edwards labeled it “transformational.”
“Over the next five years, this nearly $6 billion federal investment will have a significant impact on major projects such as highways, bridges, public transportation, electric vehicle infrastructure, ports, and airports, and it will create a more resilient transportation system that can better withstand disruptions from extreme weather,” he said. “Louisiana’s aging infrastructure will receive improvements that create a better overall quality of life for all users, expand the economy, and provide a more reliable transportation system for citizens and businesses in Louisiana.”
Much attention has been paid to the lofty combined price tag of the two bills, and less to what’s included in the so-called “hard infrastructure” package that passed with healthy bipartisan support, at least in the Senate. So let’s run through some details.
Nationally, it will provide $110 billion for bridges and roads, $39 billion for expanded and environmentally friendly public transit, $65 billion for broadband and another $65 billion to modernize the electrical grid. There’s also $55 billion for water and wastewater systems, as well as $25 billion for airports. The totals include both new and redirected spending.
The state will get some money via earmarks, including $53 million to restore the Lake Pontchartrain basin, while much will be doled out according to formula. Where discretion is involved, Louisiana is well-positioned to compete in part due to provisions pushed by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a key player in getting the deal through the Senate. Included here are measures to restore coastal areas that have faced repeated storms in recent years, and money for broadband that’s targeted for underserved areas such as rural northeast Louisiana.
“I think it addresses the needs of our present and it builds on our strengths for our future,” the Baton Rouge Republican said last week.
For all the good news, Cassidy’s fellow Louisiana Republicans in Congress embraced an alternative narrative, arguing that the bill does not sufficiently benefit the state. These members — John Kennedy in the Senate and Steve Scalise, Mike Johnson, Garret Graves, Clay Higgins and Julia Letlow in the House — say they support infrastructure in theory but just couldn’t back this bill, and cherry-pick items that benefit other states or throw around silly accusations of socialism to explain their hostility. It’s remarkably weak sauce.
Major, complex legislation never includes everything one politician or one state wants and nothing he, she or it doesn’t. Politics is about compromising and seizing opportunity. After four years of former President Donald Trump promising but not delivering on infrastructure, including two years when Republicans had majorities in Congress, this was a rare chance to get something done.
And so we thank Cassidy for rolling up his sleeves, sitting down at the bargaining table and getting the best deal he could for Louisiana. He and Democratic U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, the only Louisiana representative to support the measure, can credibly claim that they acted in the state's best interest. If only their colleagues could say as much.