President-elect Trump has expressed his vision for rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure. As long as that legislation is not used to siphon off taxpayer dollars into his personal coffers, then that is certainly something I think all Americans could probably support. In fact, I supported it five years ago when President Obama and Congressional Democrats introduced the American Jobs Act of 2011. That bill included measures to:
- Modernize roads, railways, airports, and other deteriorating infrastructure (like water and sewer systems)
- Expand the nation’s the wireless internet access
- Modernize and improve 35,000 public schools across the country, in both rural and urban communities
- Provide tax incentives for businesses to hire veterans
- Cut payroll taxes for workers and employers
- Institute a complete payroll tax holiday for businesses that add employees or raise wages
- Increase small business loans
- Create a $4,000 tax credit for businesses that hire long-term unemployed workers
The American Jobs Act contained not only infrastructure improvements of the kind the current president-elect has suggested, but it contained a lot that Republicans have traditionally advocated (at least rhetorically), like tax cuts, provisions for small businesses, and incentives to hire veterans, a group that politicians on both sides of the isle claim to care about and respect. Various economic analysts, including Moody’s and the Economic Policy Institute, estimated that the American Jobs Act would have created between 1.9 million and 2.6 million jobs and would grow GDP by 1.5 to 2 percent.
Senate Republicans filibustered the bill, though, and when it was brought to the floor to break the filibuster, every Republican with the exception of Sen. Coburn (who did not vote at all) voted against it. Without the filibuster, the American Jobs Act would have passed with a simple majority of 51 to 48.
If Republican representatives in Congress now suddenly find themselves more amenable to greater investments in infrastructure, maybe people should think about why that is. After all, if a policy is good in principle then one should support it, even if it is suggested by the opposite party, right? That is unless one’s political sentiments have less to do with policy than they do an “Us vs. Them” tribalism.
If, as a historian, I were teaching a class 50 years from now, I might ask students to examine the circumstances described above. I would help them find primary sources from our present era (the Congressional Record, role call votes, policy statements, CBO reports, various news accounts, etc.). Then I would assign them the following essay prompt:
Using specific evidence from the primary source materials (supplemented by secondary sources to provide necessary context), answer the question, “Was early twenty-first century American politics driven primarily by ideological principles or by partisan commitments to one’s team?”
(1500 – 2000 words; document your evidence with Chicago style footnotes).
 The actual vote was 50-49, but that was because Sen. Reid (D-NV), who supported the bill and introduced it, voted against it so that he would have the option to re-introduce the bill at a later point.