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Who is right on infrastructure, Mitt Romney or Mike Lee?

Utah’s senators are at odds over a $1.2 trillion package that passed the Senate this week. House Democrats hope to push a $3.5 trillion package.

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Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and other Republicans discuss the infrastructure compromise bill.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, center, and other Senate Republicans negotiated a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill the Senate passed this week. Romney is at odds with Utah Sen. Mike Lee over the bill.

AP

All eyes in Washington this week were on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan Senate infrastructure legislation passed on Tuesday. It’s particularly interesting to us because Utah Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney have been very visible on this high-profile legislation — but on opposite sides. We explore the political intrigue. 

The infrastructure bill, which now awaits action in the House, is a high priority for the Biden administration and Democrats, and for a lesser number of Republicans in Congress. Is it a good idea for the country on its merits and can it demonstrate some much-needed bipartisanship?

Pignanelli: “This is a major win to show that the institution of bipartisanship and that comity, that working together, can happen.”— Rahm Emanuel    Senate Amendment 2137 to H.R. 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, must pass ... for truly pathetic reasons. Americans need reaffirmation that Congress is not completely useless and can do something that impacts the entire nation in a bipartisan approach. Romney understands this and is willing to commit political capital and much effort to the noble cause of peeling off a few scabs of dysfunction at the Capitol.

Also, Romney and his gang of moderates know the opponents screaming from the sidelines need to lose for demonstration purposes. Former President Donald Trump and right-wing supporters are denouncing the bill as excessive (even though Trump proposed a higher price tag for his infrastructure proposal). Lefty progressives are threatening extortion of withholding support unless the additional $3.5 trillion package succeeds. Thus, full passage of the amended HR 3684 — independent of the other bill — provides comforting relief that adults are roaming the Capitol halls and intelligent politicking in the national interest is not dead.

Because he can ignore Trump, extremists from either side and just about everyone else, Romney is well placed to lead the bipartisan coalition. Admittedly, the threshold is low, but at least someone is elevating this sad process.

Webb: Infrastructure funding has been a top priority for both parties for many years. Trump pushed an even more expensive plan. The country certainly needs a big infrastructure upgrade, including in new areas like cybersecurity technology. Overall, I support the legislation, but have mixed feelings because these enormous funding bills always include a lot of extraneous pet projects and their funding formulas often favor and bail out profligate cities and states with no fiscal discipline.

Still, with Congress closely divided, a perfect bill was never going to be passed. Compromise means giving in on some things for the greater good. It was this bill or nothing. Romney and his GOP negotiators were able to keep the bill reasonably close to being a true infrastructure bill, although it does include many things I would not support.

Romney has said the bill will not raise taxes and will not increase the deficit. However, the Congressional Budget Office scored the legislation as raising the deficit by $256 billion over 10 years. That reality, along with Trump’s vocal opposition, galvanized conservative Republicans in their opposition. Not many House Republicans will vote for it.

Sen. Romney has been a leader and strong champion for the legislation. Sen. Lee has been a leading opponent. Is one wrong, or are they both partly right?

Pignanelli: Romney’s involvement was critical in developing a package with better allocation of resources while providing protection to GOP moderates. The former presidential candidate brought establishment support that is attracting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and others.

However, even I can smell the nonsense in the bill from 2,000 miles away. It is loaded with the usual tricks and gimmicks both parties use repeatedly to shamefully claim a bill pays for itself. Lee is asking the uncomfortable, but needed, questions and placing important markers for the future. The honest evaluation is the bill increases the deficit yet validates bipartisanship and funds important infrastructure projects. The criticisms need to be remembered so when the next funding behemoth comes along, recriminations for outlandish promises can be utilized.

Webb: Clearly, Lee and Romney are both partly right, and they both make persuasive arguments. A key conservative claim is that passage of this bill will help Democrats pass their $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill, which was written by Sen. Bernie Sanders and is laden with every item on the liberal social spending wish list — free stuff for everyone.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has linked the two bills, saying the House won’t pass the Senate infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes the $3.5 trillion legislation.

But Romney and others argue passing the Senate bill makes it less likely the $3.5 trillion bill will pass because Republicans and moderate Democratic senators, after just approving the $1.2 trillion, are going to recoil from boosting spending by another unfathomable $3.5 trillion. Even by Washington standards, these incredible spending levels are too much for many members of Congress.

Is this legislation good for Utah and needed to improve our infrastructure?

Pignanelli: Because of climate change, population growth and other factors, Utah must readjust its approach to natural resources — especially water and air. Federal support can help us achieve this.

Webb: Even though Utah isn’t always getting its proportionate share of the mind-boggling funding coming out of the federal government, it’s still an enormous amount of money. I’m confident Utah policymakers will use the money wisely on long-term, big-ticket infrastructure projects like water conservation and development and transportation projects.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: frankp@xmission.com.