Checking items off their to-do list, Dems pass infrastructure plan

House Democrats entered this Congress with an ambitious agenda. They've done surprisingly well checking off items on their lengthy to-do list.
Image: Evening rush hour traffic fills Highway 50 in Sacramento
Evening rush hour traffic fills Highway 50 in Sacramento, California, on Jan. 26, 2017.Rich Pedroncelli / AP file
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By Steve Benen

House Democrats promised to pursue a serious infrastructure plan in this Congress, and they apparently meant it. As the Associated Press reported yesterday, the "Moving Forward Act" is an ambitious package that focuses on environmentally-sound transportation, but also includes federal investments in schools, health care facilities, public utilities, and affordable housing.

And though it didn't generate major headlines, it cleared the lower chamber yesterday afternoon.

The Democratic-controlled House approved a $1.5 trillion plan Wednesday to rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure, pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into projects to fix roads and bridges, upgrade transit systems, expand interstate railways and dredge harbors, ports and channels. The bill also authorizes more than $100 billion to expand internet access for rural and low-income communities and $25 billion to modernize the U.S. Postal Service's infrastructure and operations, including a fleet of electric vehicles.

The final vote count was 233 to 188, with the vast majority of members voting with their party. The bill now heads to the Republican-led Senate, where it will meet the same fate as nearly every major piece of legislation from this Congress: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will ignore it, allowing it to gather dust alongside dozens of other measures.

Nevertheless, yesterday's vote was a breakthrough of sorts for House Democrats. As regular readers know, in every Congress, the House majority leadership, regardless of which party is in control, sets aside the first 10 available bill numbers. It's intended as a symbolic way to signal a party's top legislative priorities: H.R. 1 through H.R. 10 will reflect the leadership's most important goals.

So far in this Congress, the House Democratic majority has passed its democracy-reform package (H.R. 1), its infrastructure package (H.R. 2), the Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), the Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4), the Equality Act to expand civil rights to LGBTQ Americans (H.R. 5), the Dream and Promise Act (H.R. 6), the Paycheck Fairness Act to address pay disparities between men and women (H.R. 7), a bill to expand background checks on gun purchases (H.R. 8), and a bill to address the climate crisis (H.R. 9).

As legislative track records go, that's pretty impressive.

And yet, Donald Trump continues to obsessively refer to his opposition as "Do-Nothing Democrats," reality notwithstanding.

It's the right label applied to the wrong party in the wrong chamber. As we've discussed several times, the Republican-led Senate has barely tried to do any legislating at all. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) complained a while back that McConnell has "effectively turned the United States Senate into a very expensive lunch club that occasionally votes on a judge or two." The same week, Politico ran a piece describing the upper chamber as a legislative "graveyard," adding that even some Senate Republicans have noticed the chamber's "standstill," and conceded it's "frustrating" how little work the chamber was doing.

There was a point last year in which the Senate literally went months without holding a roll call vote on passing any type of legislation.

To be sure, the year is only half over, but there's little reason to be optimistic about the GOP-led Senate's plans for the rest of 2020.