Biden Getting Little Credit for Infrastructure Bill

Most don't even know it passed!

Official White House Photo by Erin Scott

POLITICO (“Biden won on infrastructure. Democrats are struggling to get voters to care.“):

Democrats facing voters on Tuesday can boast of a landmark achievement from their two years of running Washington — a $1.2 trillion infrastructure law that promises to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges, expand broadband service, put more electric vehicles on the road and provide millions of Americans with cleaner drinking water.

But nearly a year after President Joe Biden signed the biggest infrastructure bill in decades, decisions about how to spend all that money are just getting underway. And his party is struggling to reap the electoral rewards.

Polls show most voters have no idea Congress even passed the legislation — let alone that it’s already set to provide tens of billions of dollars to projects such as rail tunnels under the Hudson River, Everglades restoration work in Florida or a bridge replacement in Tennessee. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill have been quick to offer praise and claim credit when their local projects get a share of the cash.

More broadly, it will be years before federal, state and local governments decide which specific projects get the vast majority of the money, and even longer before many Americans see the results in their backyards. Many of the spending decisions will rest with Republican governors who oppose Biden’s push to use much of the money for projects that counteract climate change or redress the legacies of racial discrimination.

It’s not surprising at all that Americans aren’t feeling the effects of the spending yet since, well, it hasn’t yet been spent. Indeed, most of it hasn’t even been announced.

What’s more interesting is that the vast majority of Americans somehow don’t even know the bill passed!

Although, in fairness, the evidence for this is several months old. The link is to a July 22 POLITICO report, “Democrats have another infrastructure problem.”

Eight months after Congress cleared the landmark legislation to overhaul the nation’s roads, bridges, rails and broadband, only 24 percent of voters are aware it’s now a law, according to new polling by the center-left think tank Third Way and Impact Research that was shared first with POLITICO.

That damning assessment of the impact of one of Biden’s most significant domestic achievements comes after White House events promoting its investments as a fulfillment of a key campaign promise. While the infrastructure bill delivered on a decadeslong call for shoring up crumbling U.S. infrastructure, its passage was overshadowed by Democratic infighting over an entirely different piece of Biden’s agenda — one that still hasn’t passed.

Given that tortured backstory, Democrats said they were hardly surprised that voters knew so little about their prized infrastructure bill. Some lamented that their own party hasn’t done enough to promote it.

“We were so focused on passing the next thing, we forgot to tell people about it. And that’s a huge mistake,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). “We passed a historic, bipartisan infrastructure bill. And why we weren’t crooning about that from minute one is still a mystery to me.”

While House Democrats collectively held over 1,000 events to promote the bill, the polling shows it didn’t resonate with most people. Roughly one-third of voters said they believed it was “still being worked on in Congress,” while 9 percent believed it was “not being worked on in Congress and will not be passed.” About 37 percent said they didn’t know the status of the package at all.

There was a bright spot in the data for Democrats: Pollsters said the trend could be reversed before this fall’s midterms if the party can harness the right message. They found that voters’ support for the infrastructure bill reaches 80 percent after learning about what’s in it — Democrats just have to reach them first.

So, while Democratic infighting hampered getting the message out in the early days, it’s quite possible that they’ve fixed that during the campaign. But it strikes me as more likely that the infrastructure bill got overtaken by events—inflation, high gas prices, Ukraine, abortion, etc.

Back to today’s report:

The legislation may still bring the transformations to the U.S. economy that Democrats envisioned — and by passing it, they succeeded where former President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal failed. But infrastructure has hardly ranked among the top concerns of a midterm election campaign waged largely on issues such as inflation, abortion rights and fears about American democracy.

Biden and his aides have spent the past year on an infrastructure victory lap anyway, with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg traveling to more than 40 communities across the country to promote the law and tour infrastructure projects.

The White House hopes the public is at least aware that the infrastructure effort is moving ahead. And maybe that translates into votes, said Biden’s infrastructure coordinator, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who oversaw his community’s reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina.

“When I was rebuilding the city of New Orleans, when you’re rebuilding and you got things coming out of the ground and you got credit for it, people would say, ‘Oh, well I like that, and I want more of it,'” Landrieu said. “‘I’m going to vote for that guy rather than the other guy.'”

We’ll likely never know how much infrastructure played into the outcome of individual races, much less the overall outcome of the midterms. There are just too many moving parts.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2022, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    GOPs have FOX. Dems have to depend on the supposedly liberal MSM.

    9
  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Congress critters may have done their part in promoting the bill, but Biden should have taken a victory lap throughout the country and didn’t. Add to that, the fact there are few shovel ready projects and most will face years of contentious fights with NIMBY’s. The federal gov seldom gets credit for these initiatives, with most of the implementation happening at the state level, allowing the governors to take credit, not to mention the congress critters that voted against the bill, now claiming credit.

    1
  3. Moosebreath says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    “Congress critters may have done their part in promoting the bill”

    Whether or not they voted for it.

    5
  4. Modulo Myself says:

    The Dems have been anemic about everything, except raising money and that itself has become a universal joke. The only thing the Democrats did well the last two years was amplifying the careers of people whose one trick was blaming the left for underperforming in 2020.

    The Dems need to embrace certain things about themselves. One being that they have a left which is not going to go away because David Shor is funding his raves by talking about the polls. The other is that they aren’t going to be at good at single-issue campaigns in the way that Republicans are, and that’s a good thing. You can’t out Law and Order the party that votes hand over fist for guys who are into sexual assault and domestic violence, and you shouldn’t really want to.

    3
  5. becca says:

    @Modulo Myself: it is hard to argue with crazy. Anyway, preemptive dissing of dems before Tuesday is unhelpful.

    2
  6. DK says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    The only thing the Democrats did well the last two years was amplifying the careers of people whose one trick was blaming the left for underperforming in 2020.

    Democrats did a very good job the last two years of passing a bunch of legislation — often historic — that will tangibly move America forward and improve the lives of working people. Not to mention ending an endless, costly Middle Eastern war and reuniting the West against Russia’s authoritarian imperialism.

    Republicans did a very good job of manipulating the media into brainlessly repeating crime, inflation, CRT, and woke enough times that many people don’t notice actual achievement — or that Republicans have offered zero real solutions to any of the above. While threatening to destroy American democracy and turn America into Russia, Belarus, or Hungary.

    It’s all very But Her Emails, and totally unsurprising.

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  7. Skookum says:

    Here in rural Oregon the funds from the Infrastructure bill are being doled out by local Republicans who are using them with no acknowledgment of President Biden.

    6
  8. DK says:

    @gVOR08:

    Dems have to depend on the supposedly liberal MSM.

    Democrats do not have to do this. Democrats could start finding ways to speak past the media, but first Democrats have to recognize that the notion of the “liberal MSM” is fake news: we actually have an “establishmentarian status quo corporate media” and “lazy narrative clickbait media” that is a mixed bag and should be treated as an adversary. Many of us figured it out in 2016, what’s taking the rest of the party so long, I don’t know.

    6
  9. Chip Daniels says:

    Democrats oppose Republicans because of what Republicans do.
    Republicans oppose Democrats because of who Democrats are.

    So long as the Democratic coalition remains what it is, Republicans will oppose them, even to suffering direct financial hardship.

    4
  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:

    The MSM will tell you that it is not their job to promote Dems, and in truth, it isn’t. Faux News and Sinclair are pretty up front about their political point of view and who they are rooting for. What Dems need is one or two of the wealthy contributors to begin buying up local TV/radio/newspaper/internet outlets and inserting stories that show how government programs assist the average citizen. The “get government of of my Medicare” canard is damning indictment of the voters understanding how government works.

    Hear me rich guy/gal, rather than fund vanity campaigns and sure losers like Amy McGrath, use your money to build a media network that promotes liberal values. And Dems, begin competing at the state and local level, Valhalla isn’t inside the beltway.

    3
  11. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Passing legislation is not entertaining to voters so the media isn’t going to amplify anything outside of their business model.

    Funny how the Party of creative can’t seem to craft a story about itself that people will be interested in.

    Theyd better figure out one fast…and recruit some actual talent as sock puppets

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  12. Andy says:

    Isn’t this normal? I can’t recall a piece of legislation that made a major difference in a mid-term election.

    And polling on what people care about now suggests that long-term infrastructure spending is less important than immediate concerns.

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  13. Modulo Myself says:

    What Dems need is one or two of the wealthy contributors to begin buying up local TV/radio/newspaper/internet outlets and inserting stories that show how government programs assist the average citizen. The “get government of of my Medicare” canard is damning indictment of the voters understanding how government works.

    This sounds like something United Oxford runs to show how much they care about their customers. Truly, an awful idea.

    What’s a good idea? Go back to what Roosevelt did in the New Deal with the WPA Writer’s Project and update that and send activists/artists out into America with budgets to do what they want and to document real Americans. Nothing woke and cringey. Funny, moving, and up-to-date guerilla work about real America, i.e. the space between Republican frenzy and the child-rapist half-literate white Christians leading them and dutiful Democrats trying to talk about how historic a boring piece of legislation is.

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  14. gVOR08 says:

    @DK:

    Democrats do not have to do this. Democrats could start finding ways to speak past the media,

    How?

    @Sleeping Dog:

    The MSM will tell you that it is not their job to promote Dems, and in truth, it isn’t. Faux News and Sinclair are pretty up front about their political point of view and who they are rooting for. What Dems need is one or two of the wealthy contributors to begin buying up local TV/radio/newspaper/internet outlets

    It is the business of the press to print the truth and promote objective reality, which they are not doing. I’d be good with the old pattern of a D paper and an R paper in cities of any size. I’ve been preaching here that Ds need an equivalent of the Kochtopus to set a message, enforce message discipline, and push the message. I usually add caveats about why it’s easier for GOPs. Long story short, GOPs lie, and blood and soil is the easiest thing in the world to sell.

    @Modulo Myself: Not bad. But how is Biden gonna get a writers’ project praising government past Moscow Mitch? Maybe a couple of Sleeping Dog’s billionaire’s can fund it. But how do you get anybody to read it?

    These are all good thoughts and maybe Ds should be doing more. But the problem isn’t that Ds are too stupid, it’s that for many reasons it’s inherently a lot harder for Ds.

    2
  15. Andy says:

    @gVOR08:

    It is the business of the press to print the truth and promote objective reality, which they are not doing.

    The news business is like any business – its primary goal is to make money. And the reality is that for a lot of things – especially in politics – there isn’t truth or objective reality, there are competing values, preferences, and priorities.

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  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    @DK:

    the notion of the “liberal MSM” is fake news: we actually have an “establishmentarian status quo corporate media” and “lazy narrative clickbait media” that is a mixed bag and should be treated as an adversary.

    Just wanted to underline and boldface this. The media does what’s in front of them, and what they need to do to survive. Now, the R’s devote a lot more money to this, but then, there’s more money to be made with conservative-leaning media. Probably because we’re a conservative-leaning nation.

    2
  17. JKB says:

    …when you’re rebuilding and you got things coming out of the ground and you got credit for it…

    Things coming out of the ground, where are the pictures? They are worth a thousand media events after all. On the other hand, all that spending, using borrowed money, is inflationary and people feel the inflation every day.

    Oh well, maybe there will be something in the material economy they can show for 2024.

    1
  18. Jay L Gischer says:

    How many votes are up for grabs, where a good narrative and campaign can change them? Can a good campaign move polls/vote 5 points? Is it only 2 or 3? And wouldn’t the best narrative vary from one market to the next?

    I have an inquiring mind.

  19. grumpy realist says:

    Many many years ago there was an article in the Washington Post about how quite a few rural counties were having to let their roads lapse into gravel-paved roads because the money for repaving wasn’t there as rural counties gradually have become more depopulated. One interview was with a woman who was about the only person living on one particular road and was very indignant that she didn’t have a paved road in front of her house anymore. Her solution to the problem was to confiscate funds from the salaries of the local township employees so that she could have HER road that she DESERVED.

    Until we start penalising this sort of mentality we’re going to continue to have messes. (Forget about religion as a solution–Rod Dreher and his like are just as self-pitying as the woman above.)

    3
  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    What’s a good idea? Go back to what Roosevelt did in the New Deal with the WPA Writer’s Project and update that and send activists/artists out into America with budgets to do what they want and to document real Americans.

    Oh, wonderful idea, I’m sure the next congress will be all over it. My only question is do we prioritize this over support for families with dependent children, Medicare or similar for all and climate change, not to mention dozens of other priorities?What’s the over under on how fast will the first tweets appear labeling the program a subsidy for the Woke?

    1
  21. Sleeping Dog says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Funny thing about that, a number of years ago the country gentleman farmers of Duchess Cty, NY had a bee in their bonnet over the fact that the county wanted to pave the gravel roads, since the lifetime cost of maintenance for a paved road is far below that of gravel.

  22. Scott says:

    @grumpy realist: Since all projects have to be prioritized in some way, I think the funds should be prioritized to those states whose Congressmen actually voted for the bill. And let it be known loud and clear what set the priority. Yeah, it’s hardball but that is what is needed these days.

    1
  23. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I had a discussion with one of my Trump crazed employees about the Department of Education. He will admit when someone has made a salient point. When I explained how DOE works and how Education in the United States is still primarily controlled at the local level… he commented, “Maybe they should do a better job explaining and publicizing what it is the exactly do.”

    No shit. Instea, Democrats let Republicans tell Americans what Government does. How’s that worked out over the past 30 years? The DNC has all the markers of a aging institution–old, inflexible, lack of creativity, and most importantly, lack of young talent.

    Sad.

    2
  24. Scott says:

    @JKB: Except you were all for Trump racking up $7.8B in debt.

    2
  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Of course Biden isn’t getting any credit for it. Every Republican in Misery is taking credit for it. From the Gov, thru our US senators and Reps right down to the lowliest county commissioner. None of whom ever lifted a finger to see it passed but all of whom were first in line with their hands out for whatever $$$$$$$$$$$ they could get their greasy mitts on.

    2
  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JKB: Things coming out of the ground, where are the pictures?

    Yeah, it’s not real unless you can see pictures, right? Speaking as one of those guys you drove past for years, cursing our very presence because you had to shift lanes at 70 mph (even tho you were supposed to slow down to 60, or heaven forbid 50) here and there, fuck off. It never once occurred to you that we were actually building things, no, they just grew up out of the ground, like weeds.

    On the other hand, all that spending, using borrowed money,

    HA! Ever notice how deficits shrink when DEMs are in power but explosively grow when GOP are running things? Of course not.

    is inflationary and people feel the inflation every day.

    Yes, US DEMs are responsible for inflation in Britain and all across Europe. Who knew we were so powerful? Or maybe, just maybe, it was covid?

    By the by, seeing as you have obviously been watching FOX and listening to tucker and sean blame inflation on DEMs and DEMs alone, exactly what have GOPs proposed to bring it under control?

    4
  27. Gustopher says:

    @Scott: Earmarks used to be that. It was a mistake to get rid of them.

    4
  28. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @grumpy realist: I was pleasantly surprised when a couple years ago they repaved the 2ndary state road I live on. The state had been complaining for some time about how they just didn’t have the money for all the roads. At the time I figured there was some big time politico living somewhere between me and Richwoods but soon after the repaving I began to see a whole lot more gravel(ore) trucks (semis) passing by our house. Then I remembered my union business rep talking about a new project in Ste. Gen county to the east of us and the possibility of work for carpenters building a conveyor system for ore from point A in the west to point B in the east and I realized, that project was dead.

    Same as it ever was.

    2
  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Sleeping Dog: a bee in their bonnet over the fact that the county wanted to pave the gravel roads, since the lifetime cost of maintenance for a paved road is far below that of gravel.

    Not true. Trust me.

  30. senyordave says:

    When one party will do anything or say anything to get elected, including (and especially) the wrong thing, there might be no solution. The way the two parties currently are the Republicans have an inherent advantage. Most of them will lie, cheat, do anything to win. Most Democrats will not. No amount of focus group ads can overcome that advantage. Plus the ace in the hole is Fox News. CNN and MSNBC are no bargain, but they have standards of basic journalism. Fox has none. Ever.

    1
  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @grumpy realist: Religion wouldn’t be a solution to that problem even if religion cared about the condition of roads. Religion’s answer would most likely be something along the lines of “I cried because my house had no paved road until God showed me a person who had no house.”

    Completely unsatisfactory solution. All around.

  32. Michael Cain says:

    Some stuff just takes time — significant time — to filter through into effects.

    The power authority that provides my electricity had an RFP out for a large addition of solar power, and storage. The IRA passed and almost everyone who submitted a response came back and said, “Can we take back our response for six months? The numbers with the IRA are going to be quite different, in a direction you like, but it will take time for the changes to filter through our suppliers.”

    While the large majority of the rate payers will be happy, it’s just hard to tell the voters that the people you elected to the municipal utility board, two of whom are on the board at the authority, who are trying to meet the goal of carbon-free by 2030 you voted for a couple years back, will be able to meet the goal at lower cost because of the IRA.

  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: “On the other hand, all that spending, using borrowed money, is inflationary and people feel the inflation every day.”

    Which is all the more reason that Republicans should be more circumspect about spending money they don’t have out the concern they have for the people who are struggling because of inadequate incomes.

    Except that they aren’t more circumspect, and they don’t have concern for the people who their policies hurt in the long run.

    As Kathy noted earlier, I’d call that a “win-lose.”

  34. wr says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: “Religion’s answer would most likely be something along the lines of “I cried because my house had no paved road until God showed me a person who had no house.””

    Don’t know what kind of religion you’re looking at, but here in Amurrica it’s much more like “I cried because my house had no paved road, until I realized it was really the fault of the Blacks and the Jews, so I burned a couple of their houses down and then I felt good.”

    4
  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @wr: Either way, religion doesn’t offer the solution to the problem outlined. 🙁

  36. Lounsbury says:

    Tedious “Oh Woe is Us” excuse making…. Fox News sells a message, it’s a business. It competes in a market and gets an audience for said message. Blaming the Left lack of success on selling itself on Fox News is using a symptom of your inability to grapple with a changed messaging market.

    Look back at the commentary of the Lefties here during the period prior to and for about six to nine months post passage of the Infra Deal. It was carping, and whinging on that the Left group hostage taking had been abandoned for obtaining – and carping about the actual deal. Rather than being promoted and recognised as a win, rather one took away it was a betrayal and de facto a loss. Rather similar to the overall impression any Non-Lefty observer got in the broad public picture (yes, that media you whinge on about not selling your ideas for you [or “not presenting objective reality” or whatever ideological self-delusion you frame that under]). I am 100% certain of course this will be contested as false, but the reality is this is the impression you leave to the non-ideologically anchored. The Infra Deal was a bastard orphan for the longest time instead of something relentlessly sold and marketed as Biggest Win Ever (which is what Trump would have done had it been his, being the amoral opportunist he is).

    You lot do a bloody piss poor job of sales and marketing. You are like a company that insists on marketing a product based on what you want the consumers to be, not what they actually are.

    Fox News (who yes, I find when I visit USA land to be horrid and intolerable) achieves an audience not through force but through clever appeal. And ruthless amoral pragmatism.

    Messaging and whatnot can’t overcome a bad product, but pathetic mistargetted messaging can certainly tank a good or even acceptable product.

    You lot have utter shite messaging for selling your product outside of the Pre Sold audience. Poorly framed, excessively egg-headed academic, reifiying abstractions, and excluding achieving a “sale” to a huge demographic that commentators here literally despise as evil (white working class) that remain in many “electoral markets” the key dominant vote and you fools cede to the Republicans out of some pure secular-religious moral purity objective.

    @Andy: Daily bread and butter, and emotional appeal on those fronts. Rather than egg-head intellectual explanations (which are all well and fine for the right audience, like this audience but are shite for selling to broad market).

    However a relentless populist sales message levering this (and probably less foolish inflation denialism and rather more a quick pivot to Fixing It sales point (although mirage and fiction but such is the necessity)).

    However as the Lefties have written off the working class bizarrely enough for Multi-culti academic Left identarian politics rather than broad class appeal … no change will happen.

    3
  37. Andy says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Yep, like many other things, the media focuses on niche audiences, even to the extent of deciding which stories are important to cover, not just how to cover them.

    You see stories in the right-wing press that the left-wing press ignores and vice versa. This isn’t apparent until you read widely or follow something like this. At this point, people really do have their own “facts,” curated by sources catering to confirmation bias.

    I don’t see a solution to this other than skepticism and source diversity.

    1