It looks like the first real fight between 1st District Congressman David McKinley and 2nd District Congressman Alex Mooney to become the leading Republican candidate for the new northern 2nd Congressional District in 2022 will be over their votes for and against hard infrastructure.
The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, passed the House Nov. 5 in a 228-206 vote with 13 Republicans including McKinley voting for the bill.
Mooney and 3rd District Congresswoman Carol Miller voted no on BIF. According to a statement, Miller’s no vote came because of the BIF being too closely associated with the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better social spending framework still being negotiated in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Mooney’s no vote was also related to Build Back Better, as well as the BIF’s price tag. But he also claimed the BIF is filled with “liberal priorities.”
What are those priorities? On WV MetroNews Talkline with host Hoppy Kercheval, Mooney could only point to three examples: a pilot program to study a mileage tax, an emissions reduction program for emissions from transportation sources, and a study of the effects of building highways through minority communities.
That’s it? I’m not sure how I feel about a mileage tax, but it should be apparent to everyone that our gas taxes are not providing enough revenue for highway maintenance. Vehicles today are far more fuel efficient, needing less trips to the gas pump. I have no issues with the government studying new ways to collect funds needed to keep highways paved from the people who use those highways the most.
Studying ways to cut down on transportation emissions? That’s a far cry from mandating reductions in emissions. And looking at the ways highway construction harmed minority communities? Look no further than Charleston, where the construction of I-77 and I-64 decades ago destroyed the Elk City minority community on Charleston’s West Side.
If those are the biggest issues, they’re small potatoes compared to the billions for hard infrastructure projects that will now come to the State of West Virginia because of BIF. On the other hand, even though the bill includes no tax hikes to pay for itself, it’s not clear BIF is truly paid for, and I can’t fault anyone for voting against it if they are truly concerned about the price, the rising national debt or the effects BIF could have on keeping inflation high.
The problem for Mooney, however, is he wants to have it both ways. On one hand, he tweets out last weekend about the fiscal concerns of the bill: “The price tag far exceeds anything reasonable and further adds to our country’s ballooning debt … I do not support attaching billions of dollars of wasteful spending and tax hikes as a part of the deal.”
On the other hand, Mooney told Kercheval Thursday that “If we had held out on the House side and killed it, which we should have a couple of days ago, we would have gotten a better deal.”
I’ll be frank: there is probably no one outside the beltway that has covered BIF and the negotiations around it more than I. I was literally on-the-ground in April on Capitol Hill with Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin as negotiations started. Much of what Capito and Manchin negotiated is in BIF and both voted for it in August. Capito was one of 19 Republican Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted for BIF.
It was a bipartisan process on the Senate side. Not so much on the House side. If House Republicans were involved with BIF to change it or make it better, that’s news to me. Most of the fight on that side was between moderate Democrats who wanted to vote for BIF without delay, and progressive Democrats who held BIF hostage to get a vote on the pricier social spending Build Back Better plan.
It was a game of chicken set over two months, with progressive Democrats finally blinking after the disastrous elections nearly two weeks ago that saw several progressive and Democratic candidates lose across the country. President Joe Biden and Democrats needed a win, which is why you have some more right-wing members of the Republican House caucus upset with McKinley and the 12 other Republicans who voted for BIF.
McKinley’s vote could hurt him politically in the short term. West Virginia is still very much hypnotized by former president Donald Trump, who also attacked Republicans for supporting BIF. People out there keep mixing up BIF, which is hard infrastructure, with Build Back Better, the social spending framework. If you read my work, you know the difference. But if you’re watching Fox News primetime or getting your news from Facebook, you have no idea they’re two separate things.
Nevermind the fact that Trump proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure package toward the end of his presidency and constantly teased an infrastructure bill during his four years that never came to be.
Let’s be honest, if this was the Trump $2 trillion proposal, Mooney and others would have trampled each other to be the first to hit the green button.
In the long term, McKinley’s vote could be very helpful in the 2022 Republican primary and general election. By voting for it, McKinley and those other House Republicans may have actually helped to make it harder to pass Build Back Better this week, giving moderate Democrats a chance to kill it.
Also, assuming some of the infrastructure projects in BIF can get announced in the next seven months, those are events McKinley can attend, hard hat on and shovel in hand. The minute Mooney shows up at a BIF event, the first question he’ll get from me is, “Why are you here? You voted against this.”
Once the MAGA crowd calms down, McKinley’s vote will likely be seen as a positive step to improve infrastructure in West Virginia. Mooney will have to explain, and if you’re explaining, you’re not winning.