Davenport, Iowa (AP) — Davenport’s 81-year-old Centennial Bridge across the Mississippi River collapses under the weight of thousands of cars and trucks every day. The rust shows through its chipped silvery paint, prompting the steel to need replacing.
Washington Watch (November 2021): 40% of America’s trucking capacity is left on the table every day, MIT expert tells Congress
The city’s old landmark is one of more than 1,000 structurally deficient bridges in the area. The tally gives Iowa’s second congressional district the dubious distinction of having the second most troubled bridge in the country.
So, it seemed odd to some Iovans when District Representative Marienette Miller-Meeks voted against a bill that would inject more than $100 million in federal money to repair bridges and divert into southwest Iowa. Miller-Meeks objected to the handling of the bill by majority Democrats, never mentioning its contents, a common refrain from the minority who heavily opposed it.
If anyone in Iowa wondered whether Republicans would oppose funding for a clear local priority, few in Washington were. Strategists and sometimes party leaders note that it has become so common for MPs to prioritize their party’s line over the needs of the district that it is rarely mentioned.
“The old all-politics-are-local axiom, which says all politics is national, has been largely embraced,” said Tom Kahn, a 33-year-old Capitol Hill staff veteran who taught congressional strategy at American University.
Democrats are banking on voter backlash to the trend. As they continue to press, the passage of a nearly $2 trillion social-safety-net package, with a priority suite of voting-rights measures in early 2022, followed by a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill, They are hoping that the voters punish. Lawmakers like Miller-Meeks to oppose big new investments in health care, climate change mitigation and child care.
Related (May 2021): Kevin McCarthy, Alice Stefnick and even Madison Cawthorne are among Republican members of the House claiming the benefits of the Biden pandemic relief package to constituents.
But even weak lawmakers like Miller-Meeks – who was elected in 2020 by a margin of just six votes – aren’t worried about paying the price.
In New Mexico, Representative Yvette Herrell, a GOP freshman, voted against the infrastructure bill and its $100 million per state to improve broadband Internet access. As of 2019, a quarter of households in the rural district of Harel lacked internet.
In California’s Central Valley, Rep. David Valladao could tell families of 194,000 children that he supported expanding a middle-to-low-income child tax credit in the Biden administration’s sweeping spending bill. The agriculture-heavy district of Valladao has more children whose parents meet the monthly $300 per child requirements, which is more than any Republican targeted by Democrats.
Valladao voted against the bill, which passed the House before stalling in the Senate, when conservative Democrat Joe Manchin surprised many in his caucus last month by announcing that he would not support the bill.
Miller-Meeks’ office did not respond to requests to discuss his vote.
In her written statement released publicly after the vote, she said she would have supported an infrastructure bill that was not tied to the big spending package, as Democrats worked for months to push them.
GOP observers said Miller-Meeks and others are offering procedural explanations, when in fact they are following the national trend of party loyalty, demonstrating a change from the time-honored politics of bringing home Bacon.
“It’s a company line, as I would call it. I’ve seen it by others,” said former New York Representative Tom Reynolds, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“Things changed. It used to be ‘I brought back a lot of things for my district.’ “Now Republican lawmakers are likely to claim to stand firmly against the opposition.
This is due to the still heavy sway of former President Donald Trump over the Republican Party. Trump called the party’s primary challenges for the 13 GOP House members who supported the infrastructure bill, as he sought to end the careers of Republicans who convicted him in their impeachment trials or the attacks on the Capitol. Joined the bipartisan selection committee to investigate. Jan 6 by Trump supporters seeking to obstruct Congress’s certification of Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the November 2020 presidential election.
The defectors who joined Democrats in voting for the infrastructure bill, right-wing Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was blasted as “traitors” and “socialists” by some House GOP allies.
It’s not just the 13 House Republicans facing backlash for breaking up party ranks with infrastructure votes. These Democrats from New York are also getting sharper.
Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton received a voicemail wishing the death of him, his family and employees.
“There is probably still room for people who are making their case on local issues,” said John Ashbrook, a former aide to Senate Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. “But if you are a member of the House there is a lot of national pressure to shape your image. Your fate is in the hands of the national mood.”
Miller-Meeks had previously asked for money to improve the infrastructure of the Mississippi River. She was among 38 House members from the Mississippi River states who wrote to the US Army Corps of Engineers on December 9, asking them to prioritize $2.5 billion to modernize locks and dams.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association diagnosed 1,064 bridges – 20% – in Iowa’s agricultural and industrial Second District as structurally deficient. i.e. provisionally secured but old with need of repair.
Two of them, including Davenport’s Centennial, cross the Mississippi in the Quad Cities, a medium-sized, industrial metro area of about 475,000 people. The bridges span Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, a national crossroads of river, rail, and highway commerce, have been struggling to maintain its status as an agricultural machinery center.
The most traveled structurally deficient bridge is the 50-year-old Mississippi crossing on Interstate 280 behind the century, a Davenport bypass that connects to Interstate 80, one of the nation’s busiest freight routes.
Paul Rumler, president of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, lobbied Miller-Meeks to support the infrastructure bill. He said commerce slows dramatically during annual repairs on many bridges.
In June, the Interstate 280 bridge near Davenport and the 55-year-old Interstate 80 bridge up the river were partially closed for repairs, driving westbound traffic back into Illinois for miles.
“The long-term predictable federal infusion of funding is helpful so that we can move out of this day-to-day maintenance and think about long-term needs,” Rumler said. “And the Quad City is certainly one of those places that has long-term needs.”
Planners are eyeing a new Mississippi River bridge on Interstate 80, a 3,000-mile femoral artery connecting Metro New York with San Francisco.
Aaron Tennant owns trucking and shipping companies on both the Iowa and Illinois sides of the Mississippi. This month, after six years under construction, a new bridge opened on Interstate 74 connecting Bettendorf, Iowa and the city of Moline, Illinois. But last summer’s delay cost tenant productivity. This frustrated the commuters and put extra pressure on the old bridges like Shatabdi.
The Republican, who describes himself as “very conservative,” says he voted for Trump twice, knows Miller-Meeks well and “has done a good job.” But they don’t understand why they voted against the infrastructure bill.
While the large social spending package “bothers” them a bit, “infrastructure funding is unique because it’s a piece that I don’t mind spending money on because it creates jobs directly.”
Tennant said he would have to “talk with congressmen to better understand their position.”