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Not so fast on infrastructure improvement
Rich Manieri
Rich Manieri

If you felt the ground shake and witnessed wild beasts living together in harmony, that was actually a supernatural event triggered when Republicans and Democrats agree on something.

As I listened to NPR, in my car, to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) talk about his meeting with President Trump on infrastructure, I almost had to pull over.

Schumer said, among other things, that Democrats and the president - yes, President Donald J. Trump - “want to get something done on infrastructure in a big and bold way.” He said there was “good will” in the meeting.

I first checked the date. It wasn’t April 1. 

That left only two possibilities. The man I heard on the radio was an impostor. The real Schumer was in a closet somewhere, bound with duct tape and an ether rag stuffed in his mouth. Or that was really him on the radio, talking about how his meeting with Trump was very “constructive.”

I suddenly felt lighter.

Could this be a sign that Republicans and Democrats realize they are failing the American people and have awakened, committed to a new sense of cooperation for the benefit of their constituents?

And what could be better than addressing our crumbling infrastructure – roads, bridges, the power grid, water supply? This is good government. Perhaps Congress can finally start doing something to turn that measly 20-percent approval rating around.

And then, like a frying pan in the face, reality arrived.

The infrastructure package would cost about $2 trillion. Neither the Democrats nor the president talked about how they were going to pay for it.

This, of course, is the tricky bit about wanting expensive things - the paying.

I would enjoy a snowmobile, an 80-inch TV and a pizza oven. But I really won’t have them until I exchange currency for the items.

It’s safe to assume that Trump and the Democrats will have vastly different ideas about how to fund infrastructure improvement.

Raising the gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993, has been talked about but Trump is unlikely to go along with any sort of tax increase, no matter what’s being taxed.

And the skeptic in me says that Republicans and Democrats, with an election looming in 2020, realize they need to at least pretend to want to get something accomplished so when the whole thing blows up they can say, “Hey, we gave it our best shot. It’s their fault.”

May 13 will mark the beginning of “Infrastructure Week.” I figured I’d let you know in case you want to send a card.

Unfortunately, “Infrastructure Week” has taken its rightful place next to “National Unicorn Day” and Tinkerbell’s birthday. You can celebrate all you want, but you’re not going to see anything.

If there’s one thing, just one, on which Republicans and Democrats should be able to come together, it’s infrastructure. Maintaining sound roads and bridges, along with a stout power grid, is fundamental responsibility of our government. 

Of course, doing things that are “fundamental” for which it is “responsible” is not a strength of this current iteration of Congress, nor has been the strength of several previous iterations.

And even with infrastructure there are naysayers.

“We’re in the middle of a constitutional crisis here,” former Schumer aide Brian Fallon told the New York Times Tuesday. “The most important job the Democrats have right now is to uphold the rule of law against a president who thinks the law doesn’t apply to him. We have bigger fish to fry than trying to look like we gave it a shot on infrastructure.”


And there are plenty of distractions to keep both parties from focusing on infrastructure.

On this particular day, Senate Democrats are grilling Attorney General William Barr about what he said regarding the Mueller report before it was released. This Capitol Hill hearing featured all of the political classics - grandstanding, righteous indignation, raised voices, not to mention the call by Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono for Barr to resign.

So much for “good will.”

I have that heavy feeling again. My optimism is about gone.

And now I’m wondering if that shaky ground was really just the start of another sinkhole.

Rich Manieri is a Philadelphia-born journalist and author. He is currently a professor of journalism at Asbury University in Kentucky. You can reach him at