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Local View: Biden's bold infrastructure plan needs GOP, progessives behind it

From the column: "We need this investment. Our national infrastructure has generally been a bipartisan effort."

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On July 7, I attended a roundtable discussion about Duluth’s Garfield Avenue/I-535 Interchange, the “Can of Worms,” hosted by U.S. Congressman Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, and attended by various stakeholders: labor, business advocates, and officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation among them. While the focus was on that specific project, I pressed Stauber on whether this meant he would approve President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan. He balked, stating, rightly, that negotiations were ongoing. But he didn’t say he’d support any plan in the end. I have my doubts but may be proven wrong.

I know where I stand. Biden’s infrastructure plan is bold and all-encompassing — and needed. Then-U.S. Congressman James Oberstar, for whom I worked, presented a similar plan years ago. Then-President Barack Obama resisted it, a mistake on Obama’s part.

Biden isn’t making the same mistake. Indeed, he’s taking Oberstar’s initiative further with, according to the White House, “The largest long-term investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century — an investment that will make our economy more sustainable, resilient, and just.”

We need this investment. Our national infrastructure has generally been a bipartisan effort, at least when Oberstar was in office. He managed to get both sides to agree on things (except for Obama), and things got done. Now it seems more partisan, with Republicans blocking any attempts to make this country’s infrastructure great again.

It was a Republican, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who implemented our national highway system, which is a critical part of our transportation network, so you’d think Republicans would be on board. Instead, today, Republicans seem more interested in building walls to keep out non-whites and cultural divisiveness. I have always argued that an improved infrastructure is needed, not only for our economy but for our national defense.

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Not that the progressive caucus in Congress is any better. Its membership seems in lockstep with many Republicans against any compromise. The way they talk, you’d think they want rainbows and unicorns in the infrastructure plan. But Biden has to consider their views, no matter how wacky they are.

I asked a Biden supporter, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, about the plan, in whatever form it takes, and she was more straightforward than Stauber.

“We need a 21st-century infrastructure system that meets the demands of our 21st-century economy, including safe bridges, modern highways, forward-looking public transportation, and broadband access. This bipartisan framework marks major progress toward those goals,” she said by email. “We must also lay the groundwork in the months to come for long-term economic growth with child care access, paid family leave, and educational opportunities. These investments would have a profound impact on Americans today and for generations to come.”

That works for me. Infrastructure has come a long way from when we were just building roads, canals, railroads, buildings, and dams, etc. It involves many other facets now. Biden realizes this and is being proactive, which includes being flexible when dealing with Congress.

That’s a far cry from “The Former Guy,” who was basically a disaster in every aspect of the presidency. I don’t envy Biden’s job, dealing with the reticence of Republicans and progressives. I’m hoping they will put their petty ideologies aside and work with the president to put together an infrastructure plan that, while not perfect, addresses the needs of my country.

In the Army, we had a saying: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” President Biden is leading. If Republicans and progressives don’t want to follow, and help, they can get out of the way.

Dave Boe is a communications professional who lives in Duluth. He can be reached at dsbgroup66@gmail.com.

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Dave Boe of Duluth

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