President Biden and his advisers have begun to engage with lawmakers on his American Jobs Plan. Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday, and he and aides have been on the phone with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The clear message from the administrations is that ideas and negotiations are welcome. The only nonstarter is doing nothing.

Meanwhile, Republicans sound as though they’re all over the map. Despite claims to be the newly populist party of working men and women, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have been predicting economic doom should corporations be forced to pay any more than they presently are in federal taxes (which, in the case of more than 50 companies, amounted to zero last year). However, that red line is already getting smudged.

Appearing on CNN, Sen. Roger Wicker, a staunch conservative from Mississippi, declared, “I’m not ruling out some kind of pay-for, absolutely.” He went on: “If you’re going to spend, say, $600 billion over several years on an infrastructure program that’s much bigger than we’ve had before, absolutely. We have to be grown-ups and say it has to be paid for so we’re not going to be able to come up with that money out of thin air.” Well, that’s a refreshing change of perspective. Perhaps Wicker’s common-sense approach will gain traction.

Many Republicans seem wedded to quibbling over the definition of “infrastructure.” Now, they insist infrastructure means “something you drive on.” But that is a departure in many cases from their own positions.

In 2018, then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was all in favor of a farm bill that included “conservation programs, outdoor recreation, and upgraded watershed and drinking water infrastructure.” He was so gung-ho about the bill that he praised inclusion of provisions that “enhance infrastructure investment in rural communities, on everything from local water projects to broadband internet to helping curb the drug epidemic in rural America.” Back in 2016, McConnell favored an energy bill that “expands domestic supply and improves efficiency . . . [and] addresses aging infrastructure and enhances safeguards.” If Biden changed his bill’s title to the “American Jobs, Farm and Energy Act,” would McConnell drop his aversion to including water, broadband and energy infrastructure provisions?

McConnell is far from the only Republican who previously favored components of the Biden bill — before Biden entered the Oval Office. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) now objects to spending for items he doesn’t consider “infrastructure.” It was not always so. In the past, he has supported expanding water infrastructure and broadband infrastructure. In 2018, he understood how important job training was: “By rebuilding our aging infrastructure and improving job training programs targeted toward in-demand infrastructure-related jobs, we have a great opportunity to further strengthen our economy,” he declared.

Similarly, Wicker earlier this year pressed for “local projects related to infrastructure, including water and wastewater systems, healthcare, education, and other essential activities.” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wanted “grants for measures that reinforce school safety infrastructure and technology”). In 2020, Rubio joined Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to push for a review of “alternatives to fifth-generation, or future-generation, mobile telecommunications infrastructure.” Cruz once upon a time was keen on “pipeline infrastructure.”

If Republicans not so long ago viewed broadband access, job training, pipelines and water projects — to name just a few — as worthwhile “infrastructure” investments, then perhaps they should drop the semantics and start debating over what we need, how much we need and how to pay for it. They might recall how much their own constituents want these items and then try legislating instead of polishing their talking points for right-wing media.

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