Why the GOP Is Trying to Take Credit for Union Workers’ Infrastructure Victory

Yves here. Erm, in response to the headline question: “Because it’s so unlike the Dems to spend on nice things for the masses.” And I am actually surprised that each party does not try to steal credit for the other sides’ bills more often, as with the infrastructure legislation. Happens often on Wall Street on private or not well publicized transactions.

By Tom Conway, the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW). Produced by the Independent Media Institute.

John Campbell and other union activists led the fight in 2021 for historic infrastructure legislation needed to modernize the nation, support millions of good-paying jobs, and supercharge the economy.

They wrote tens of thousands of postcards, made countless phone calls, and pounded the halls of the U.S. Capitol, ultimately securing enough votes to overcome Republican opposition and push the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) through the Democratic-led Congress. Democratic President Joe Biden swiftly signed the legislation into law.

Now, as that union victory unleashes $1.2 trillion for new roads and other hugely popular projects from coast to coast, Republicans who tried to kill the legislation want to jump on the bandwagon and take credit for the same investments they once opposed.

“Republicans are so short-sighted that they can’t see past their donors,” fumed Campbell, a member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), pointing out how ridiculous opponents of the infrastructure package look as money floods into their districts for high-speed broadband, lead-free drinking water, and other life-changing initiatives.

“They have no shame,” Campbell said of the Republicans trying to evade responsibility for how they voted. “They have no integrity. They have no principles.”

For example, Representative Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama in June issued a press release in which he praised a $1.6 million grant for a railroad bridge in his district and proclaimed himself “always happy to support this type of funding in Congress.”

Yet he voted against the IIJA, which expanded the very program providing the grant for the railroad bridge.

Representative Ashley Hinson, who represents part of Campbell’s home state of Iowa, was another of the 200 House Republicans who ignored workers’ demands and voted against the IIJA.

But nothing as inconvenient as the truth was going to stop Hinson from trying to grab the limelight and take credit in a tweet when the Army Corps of Engineers announced $829 million in IIJA funding for a major project benefiting her constituents.

The Corps will use the funds to construct a new 1,200-foot lock and repair other parts of an Upper Mississippi River transportation system critical not only for Midwestern farmers, miners, and factory workers but for the entire nation’s economy.

It’s game-changing for sure, no thanks to Hinson. In all, the IIJA delivers billions for Iowa, including $19 million so far to prevent the kind of flooding that ravaged much of the state, including Cedar Rapids, part of Hinson’s district, in 2008.

It’s also providing the city of Waterloo—in Hinson’s district—with $20.5 million for a “complete streets project” on La Porte Road that will improve safety for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

And it’s delivering $20.4 million to Eastern Iowa Airport—also part of Hinson’s district—for a modernization effort that will bring more gates, improved facilities for passengers with special needs, and other upgrades. After attempting to torpedo the IIJA, Hinson had the gall to join other officials at a press conference to tout the airport overhaul and say she’s “proud” of the work being done there.

The benefits of these and other IIJA projects will last for generations and enhance national security, noted Campbell, a retired tire worker and member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 310L who’s spent decades supporting pro-worker candidates and initiatives.

“This bill is critical for the success of America. Period,” said Campbell, who’s angry with Hinson not only for boasting about investments she opposed but for sitting on the sidelines while working Iowans charted a path forward.

“What was her alternative?” he said, referring to the infrastructure legislation. “What did she propose to make Iowans’ lives better?”

Other Republicans who opposed the infrastructure program all but admitted their folly by sending letters to the Biden administration seeking IIJA funds for projects their constituents want and need.

Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona sent three letters requesting millions for a trio of road projects, while Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky sent 10 letters seeking support for road, riverwalk, and dam improvements, among other work.

Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee voted against the bill as well but later wrote letters seeking funding for nine projects and tweeted her support for the progress that the city of Wartburg made in expanding broadband access. The IIJA provides millions for Tennessee to deliver high-speed internet to every household.

The IIJA—also opposed by Senator Bill Hagerty and all of the Republican members of Tennessee’s House delegation—allocated millions more for the state’s roads and bridges as well as $150 millionto support a new plant in Chattanooga that will supply graphite for the electric vehicle market and other industries.

Those investments will help to foster growth that residents of Tennessee already see all around them.

“Jobs are here,” said Van Tenpenny, financial secretary for USW Local 1155L, noting the infrastructure program creates new demand for truck tires produced by union members at the Bridgestone plant in Warren County while also making the highway improvements needed to more efficiently get products to customers.

As Republicans try to take credit for the infrastructure program, Tenpenny said, it’s important for union members to continue pointing out the truth. Workers and their Democratic allies created the wave of progress now washing across the nation.

“We’re responsible for it,” he said.

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  1. griffen

    Politicians can be easily summarized with this statement, “when I’m not kissing babies I’m stealing their lollipops. I’m a cheat and a liar, Dr Ryan, which means I keep my options open.” Meeting scene from the Hunt for Red October. Jack later finds himself in deep waters than expected.

    We’re firmly in what I call Blazing Saddles territory, where up is down and contradicting oneself is no longer a concern. I’m sorta hopeful I guess, that festering problems will be solved with these funds but hey it’s a deep trough and pigs gotta eat.

  2. The Rev Kev

    ‘For example, Representative Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama in June issued a press release in which he praised a $1.6 million grant for a railroad bridge in his district and proclaimed himself “always happy to support this type of funding in Congress.”’

    Just a radical thought here. With that Aderholt of Alabama praising that grant for example. Was not there a single, solitary reporter that could ask him live on camera that if he was so pleased about that grant, then why did he vote ‘No’ when it came to a vote on it instead of supporting it like he said that he was always happy to do?

    1. Samuel Conner

      I think he could deftly slip out of that “noose”:

      “I’m opposed to deficit spending — the government shouldn’t burden future generations with the crushing burden of [the economic injections that are what the annual deficit amounts to].”

      “So I conscientiously voted against the underlying legislation. But, given that the majority overruled my wise approach to fiscal policy, I also had to think about the interests of my constituents, and that demanded that I obtain their fair share of the infrastructure investment that was going to be funded by this catastrophic increase in [the economic injections that are what the annual deficit amounts to].”


      These people are expert at rhetorically having their cake and also eating it.

      What is never challenged is the underlying flaws in the understanding of what the “deficit” is. And he may even know that — perhaps he has read Prof. Kelton’s The Deficit Myth. But the truth may not be useful from the standpoint of promotion of one’s career as an elected official.

    2. Sue inSoCal

      No, we don’t do that. It’s the usual suspects that vote nay. The educated ones might be able to BS their way out of it (Cornyn) with an intrepid investigative interviewer, but there are plenty of stupid ones (Tuberville, Blackburn).

      The bill ended up being crap or nothing would have gone through, I get it. (To wit, President Manchin’s pipeline…) Insofar as if we have the labor to do this, not only do we have lousy employment and/or no jobs, but we have gig workers slaving several jobs that would jump at a well paying job, in my opinion. One would hope that this doesn’t default to a guy at the top and actually provide some people jobs that pay a living wage.
      -Signed Tiny Tim

  3. Michael

    How long will it take to spend $1.2T ?

    100 $5B projects plus 500 $1B projects plus 1000 $100M projects plus 10,000 $10M projects.
    2 per state……………….. 20 per state……………. 200 per state……………….. 2000 per state

    Make up your own numbers but do we even have the workforce to accomplish this? Where does all of the material come from? *cough* China? Environmental impact? Inflation?

    Debt service @ 4% on $1.2T = $48B / year (US annual total => $1T as we live and breathe)

    Distribution of funds slanted in favor of PMC?

    1. Samuel Conner

      > do we even have the workforce to accomplish this?

      Perhaps it’s more an “immigration liberalization” bill than an “infrastructure funding” bill, at least from the perspective of the underlying motivations.

    2. Big River Bandido

      Take out the tax breaks for the wealthy and the giveaways to private equity and the actual spending on infrastructure was closer to $400 billion. That’s not very much in the way of transportation networks, which run into the billions of dollars for each one — the lock and dam project quoted a price tag of $829 million, in other words just shy of $1 billion, just for a single project. Funding at that level won’t even be noticed as a “bump”.

  4. Big River Bandido

    (As Lambert might say)…“Historic infrastructure legislation”, my sweet Aunt Fanny…the word “historic” is doing an awful lot of work there.

    Let us recall that in the attempt to get its most right-wing members (Manchin, Sinema, or insert your Rotating Villain of the Week) to agree to it, the Democrats stripped the “infrastructure bill” of all its worthwhile components. What was left was a Frankenstein’s monster of a bill that pleased the political elites, private equity, and no one else. The giveaways in that act were so misdirected and so puny relative to the size of the economy as to be useless. The only intent was for political “optics”, and we saw how that worked out for the Democrat Party last November. Any (dubious) economic effect has already dissipated.

    Seeing as this piece was written by a union official, in an age when union leaders betray their own rank-and-file at every turn, I’d say it’s just propaganda — an attempt to convince people that it’s raining and the elites aren’t really just pissing on us.

    1. Big River Bandido

      I’ll also note that the $829 million project that Rep. Hinson (R-IA) touts actually goes to upgrade Lock and Dam 22 and Lock and Dam 25. Both are located well downstream of Iowa, in Missouri.

  5. Altandmain

    This might be more substantial than it seems – the GOP may be forced to move to the populist left more. The Democrats cater increasingly to the upper middle class and the GOP to the working class populist base.

    Notably in 2016, one thing that happened was that Trump was to the left of Hillary Clinton on his opposition to free trade, and to manufacturing in the US. Before that, basically the Establishment in both parties basically believed in that “comparative advantage” class warfare garbage economics. Now though it’s all fallen apart and the other effect is that there is at last some attempt to build more manufacturing.

    Of course, a lot of this is not for the benefit of the ruling class. A lot of this is because the ruling class, blinded by their greed, accelerated the rise of China. Needless to say, the ruling class wants to hold American hegemony.

    Sure, you could argue that a lot of this is lip service, but the fact that they are even forced to even make lip service to try to cater to working class more and more is itself a victory. The same applies to infrastructure. Although the Democrats of course will never admit this, Trump won that argument for having a large manufacturing sector in the US.

    This is coming from someone who once had to train his replacement in Mexico due to free trade. Perhaps in the future, we will see the GOP move to the left of the Democrats on infrastructure as well, the way the Trump GOP has moved to the left on manufacturing.

    Trump never succeeded in an industrial policy. He stuffed his cabinet and administration with GOP establishment types. But a future leader may very well be forced to do so and to have a very different group of personnel in their administration.

    Right now the main problem is that voters need to somehow force the politicians to turn lip service into actions (ex: infrastructure stimulus, industrial policy, and stronger worker protection laws / higher wages).

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