Will MAGA Republicans Block Baltimore’s Rebuilding?

Soon after a huge container ship struck Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, bringing it down, President Biden pledged that the federal government would “pay the entire cost of reconstructing” the bridge. This would clearly be the right thing to do, not just to help the state of Maryland but also to limit the economic damage from a disaster that has blocked both a major road artery and a major port. Among other things, the Port of Baltimore plays a key role in both exports of coal and trade in farm and construction equipment, so the bridge disaster will have direct adverse effects on the heartland as well as the East Coast.

And if America were still the same country that enacted the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 — passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress and signed into law by a Republican president — which gave rise to our Interstate System, there would be little question that Congress would approve funding soon after it returns from Easter recess.

But we aren’t that country anymore. Biden will probably be able to get funds for rebuilding, but it’s by no means a sure thing.

The rise of MAGA Republicans is only part of the problem. I’ve seen several people citing the response to the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minnesota as an example of what things were like in a better political era. Indeed, within days, Congress voted unanimously to provide $250 million in aid.

But that was a one-off. The Minnesota bridge collapse highlighted the decaying state of America’s infrastructure, and one might have expected the disaster to lead to real action, but it didn’t. President Barack Obama pleaded with Congress to approve broad increases in infrastructure spending and was able to sign a highway funding bill in 2015, but for the most part he was stymied by G.O.P. opposition. As president, Donald Trump repeatedly promised to revamp America’s infrastructure — “it’s infrastructure week” became a running joke — but never delivered.

Major action on infrastructure didn’t happen until late 2021 with the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — which, despite the name, received only 13 Republican votes in the House. And that was with Democrats in full control of Congress. It’s not foolish to worry that MAGA hard-liners will block aid to Maryland in much the same way that they’ve blocked aid to Ukraine.

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